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Temenaks in Tenerife (Day 1: Noche de San Juan, Sunset Cruise)

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Welcome back once again to another entry of Mastication Monologues!  I may or may not have more free time to write on this blog now that I have officially graduated from my speech pathology program, but my wife and I actually just came back from a magical honeymoon in the mysterious land of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.  When we eventually settled on the location, I was very excited because I wanted to go somewhere in Spain, but a location I had never been before so my wife and I could explore together.

The Canary Islands are a series of volcanic islands that are off the west coast of Morocco that truly are a hidden gem and basically Hawaii for Europeans who are searching for fun in the sun, i.e. English, German, and Russian tourists mostly.  However, when we told people stateside where we were going, we were greeted with typically an uncertain, “Oh cool.  That’s awesome.” followed by, “So where are they exactly?”  However, they wished us well and to have plenty of fun which we obviously did.  Funny enough though, the islands are not named after the chirpy birds that were used in mine shafts rather the birds were named after the islands.  Numerous theories about the islands’ name abound.  One involves the Romans calling the islands Canariae Insulae or “Island of Dogs” due to the presence of the dogs the indigenous Guanche tribes bred, worshipped as gods throughout the island, and even mummified them to be buried with their owners.  When the Spanish arrived in the 1490s, they described the same large, powerful dogs killing wolves that were attacking their livestock, and today this ancient breed is known as the Prensa Canario as shown below.  Another theory is that the Romans named the islands after the large amount of seals or “sea dogs” they saw on the shores.  Instead of starting our travels in the Eternal City like the ancient travelers, we left Chicago on an overnight flight.  We decided to start our honeymoon off right with a light dinner at Hub 51 at O’Hare airport.  We had been to Hub 51 in Chicago before with friends (delicious food), so we knew they wouldn’t disappoint us.  We got a delicious, not too dry Giuliana prosecco in addition to sharing guacamole and chips.  The chips were on the thin, cantina-style side which sometimes was a drawback if we wanted to really pile on the rich but not too spicy guacamole.  We also wanted to try their Brussels sprout salad, but we had a stroke of luck when they said they were out of the Brussels sprout salad.  We switched it up and ordered the Sonoma salad instead which was delectable from the mixed greens to the fresh slices of grapefruit that offset the sweeter vinaigrette and candied walnuts.  With our bellies full and ready to depart the Windy City, we eventually arrived in London-town  and had a layover in “beautiful” Gatwick airport.  During our time there, we decided to grab some food before our next leg to the islands. We ended up at Garfunkle’s which seemed like England’s take on a Chili’s with general burgers as well as more traditional British fare in the form of fish and chips and a chicken pie which we ordered.  While the fish and chips weren’t as authentic as getting it from a chippy or a fish and chip shop for those who don’t speak British English, the breading was light and crispy with plenty of delicious cod beneath.  Their chips were a bit stale which I didn’t care for, and their mushy peas were a bit too mint heavy.  Janice’s chicken pie was more satisfying with layers of creamy mashed potatoes, seasoned chunks of chicken, a hearty cream sauce, and a side of carrots and broccolini.  After our bite to eat, we grabbed brews to watch the Belgium v.s. Tunisia.  Funny enough, the beers my wife got were from Portland, Maine that her and her friends get when they’re in Connecticut.  It was a quite hoppy IPA, but thankfully it was something light before the second leg of our trip that finally brought us to Tenerife.

Flying into Tenerife, it looked like a more desert-covered version of what I would expect Hawaii to be.  The most breathtaking portion of the island was seeing the looming Mount Teide above the clouds.  It is a still active volcano that the native Guanche people called Echeyde.  They viewed the peak as a portal to hell and the home of a powerful demon, Guayota, who was imprisoned there as punishment for kidnapping the god of sun and light, Magec.  The subsequent eruptions of the volcano, the most recent in 1909, were seen as Guayota attempting to escape.  We were swiftly shuttled from the southern airport on the island of Tenerife to our hotel in Los Alcantilados Los Gigantes.  However, it wasn’t just any special night, it was La Noche de San Juan or Saint John’s night which was adopted by the Catholic Spanish from the pagan Guanche people who originally celebrated the date to ring in the summer solstice.  We could see the traditional giant bonfires dotting the countryside as the local Canarios were burning old belongings to signify a new start to the year.  When we finally arrived to our hotel, we were exhausted yet at the same time exhilarated and ready to find a beach party to experience a unique cultural celebration.  Our first meal wasn’t quite a leap into the unknown at the restaurant across the street from our hotel with a Margarita Italian-style, thin crust pizza with mugs of typical, thin, Spanish lager native to the Canary Islands called Dorada.  Once we were fueled up, we began our hunt for the beach party for San Juan.  We received conflicting information from the waitress and the front desk worker, but they both said that there was a giant wooden sardine to be burned.  We had to be there simply for the randomness.  It soon began a wild goose chase of people telling us to just find the beach in addition to randomly attempting to find the party with a German family.  Suddenly, the skies in front of us lit up with glittering explosions, and Janice and I immediately ran toward them, leaving the Germans in our wake.  We finally found the hidden route to the beach party and were faced with only the finest Euro-techno beatz Tenerife had to offer. I asked the bartender about the burning sardine, and it already happened two hours ago on the beach!  Still, the thrill of the hunt was entertaining, and we enjoyed the ambiance.  After a cold Dorada looking out over the revelers on the black sand beach and the pile of ashes from the wooden sardine in the background, we decided to call it a night.

Our first morning in Tenerife was breathtaking as we enjoyed the iconic cliffs or alcantilados right outside our window.  We then went downstairs to experience the interesting buffet that our hotel had to offer.  It was very European with plenty of cereals, cold cuts, and a bread wall.  You heard me right.  It was literally a wall of fresh bread that you could slice your own piece of baguette, boule, or rye.  I swear I saw Janice kneeling in front of it praising the carb gods, but maybe it was just my jet lag.  I helped myself to a variety of fresh fruits like the Canarian banana that is smaller than the ones found stateside, but are much sweeter and probably the best I’ve ever had.  They also had churros and melted chocolate (not pictured here) which constitute a typical Spanish breakfast.  There was also a sopressata spread that was salty and spicy in all the right ways.  At midday, we decided to watch the England vs Panama game at one of the many local British bars. The food was nothing to brag about compared to what was to come, but I tried a corned beef and Branston pickle sandwich, something I never tried before. While in America, we think of salty, crunchy pickled cucumbers, Branston pickle is an English made spread that consisted of chunks of pickled carrots, onions, and turnips in a sweet, slightly spicy brown sauce.  Apparently it’s very popular in English pubs on cheese sandwiches.  It was okay on a very simple sandwich, but it did not set my palate alight compared to other meals we would have this trip.  After enjoying the 5-0 thrashing of Panama and plenty of airhorn blasts from the barkeeps, we had a date with a private sunset cruise from Puerto Colon.

It was a glorious day, as are most days in the Canaries, and we set sail out on the Atlantic Ocean with Captain Marco and Captain Jan Jan. 

Captain Jan Jan showing us around

We were treated to delicious Spanish cava or champagne and (in counterclockwise order below) a mix of Spanish cheeses, mild and spicy Spanish chorizo, and melt-in-your mouth jamon iberico (Iberian ham).Between the appetizers and the main course, we were treated to something unbelievable:  30-35 pilot whales swimming around our boat.  Captain Marco said he never saw anything like it before because these whales are naturally shy around humans and boats.

Part of a family pod with a little baby whale in the middle

Eventually, all that excitement made us hungry, and we had a mouth-watering mixed paella that contained fresh mussels, tiny clams, plentiful rings of calamari, and juicy pieces of sausage and chicken.  It was followed up by a decadent chocolate torte and an apple tart that were too good for words.  As came into port, we were brought to a lookout point to watch the sunset.  A beautiful end to a beautiful day.

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Toronto (Day 2): Falling In Love Is Just Peachy

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Oh, Canada!  You have provided me with such great material that I can’t wait to tell everyone about day two of our adventures in Toronto.  Today’s post mainly revolves around our trip to Niagara Falls and to an extremely popular restaurant with a unique and fun to say name.

We woke up to a wonderfully gray sky that quickly developed into a legitimate downpour.  That combined with the speedy Canadian drivers made the trip all the more hazardous.

Jan Jan just being trip photographer

Jan Jan just being trip photographer

Luckily, we made it to the famous falls in one piece, but there was no sign of the rain abating.  We ran through the drops and around the hordes of tourists to the visitors’ center to get our adventure passes, and what an adventure we had.  First, there was the cutesy video they showed us that was pure edutainment explaining how the falls were formed via an anthropomorphic beaver and owl.  That then led to a large chamber that highlighted Niagara’s Fury which amounted to a 360 degree screen that went along with a 4-D movie complete with rain which meant we had to wear ponchos through the entire film.  The only time I felt scared/disturbed was afterward in the gift shop that the movie chamber was connected to, naturally.  The main reason why I was scared was due to the demonic looking beaver plushes. IMG_6922 However, not all was disturbing since we had fun11692670_10105957316152539_8144874219333573867_n and made some friends along the way. 11745424_10105957240139869_5129336564047481268_n We quickly moved on to the fun nature walk that went along the Niagara river, and it was weird to think that we were in another country even though the USA was literally a stone’s throw away in the form of New York State.  Due to the rain, there also weren’t a lot of tourists on this part of the tour, so we were delighted with that development while soaking in the beautiful surroundings.  My socks also soaked up the river when a huge wave crashed against the rocks right where we were standing.  After all of that walking, we worked up an appetite, so we decided to try another Canadian tradition that Aaron recommended:  Pizza Pizza.  When Janice and I first heard him say it, we thought it was Little Caesar’s due to the mascot’s signature catchphrase.  We were wrong!  Turns out it is a Canadian institution that apparently also claims to have done a lot of pizza firsts like putting pineapple on a pizza, using delivery bags, and using virtual advertising.  It’s their go-to for fast food pizza;  it’s not amazing but not terrible, as Aaron put it.  We agreed with his assessment. IMG_6928 We both got slices of veggie pizza that was fresh and covered with peppers, onions, and mushrooms.  We also split a side of fries that were well made, and I spiced it up with this lemon pepper seasoning they offered on the side.  ‘Twas a nice sour and spicy kick to the delicious fries.  I’d recommend trying this Canadian culinary staple.  Once we were fueled up, we got on the Hornblower ship to see the falls.  IMG_6948It was cool, wet, and wild as the wind was blowing up our ponchos a la Marilyn Monroe.11703117_10105957315548749_8925081409671534301_n  After taking a ton of pictures while looking like sea hobos wearing trash bags, we left Niagara for Toronto.  We had a delicious dinner date planned at David Chang’s Momofuku.  It was another restaurant that was participating in Toronto’s Summerlicious restaurant week, so we were excited to finally be able to try this high end establishment.  The head chef who created Momofuku, David Chang, is one of the biggest names in the cooking game.

Momofuku the creation of superstar chef David Chang brings his food to Toronto. The much anticipated resto is famous for noodles and pork buns. (Photo by Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Momofuku the creation of superstar chef David Chang brings his food to Toronto. The much anticipated resto is famous for noodles and pork buns. (Photo by Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

He has tons of accolades, experience, and a personality/temper that is larger than life that also reflects his passion for finding and creating good food with simple ingredients.  This outlook on cooking has resulted in Momofuku expanding to a ton of other franchises like Ma Peche, Ssam Bar, and Milk Bar in NYC.  IMG_6959IMG_6994The Toronto location we were at was relatively new and consisted of five different mini-restaurant areas:  Shoto, Daisho, Milk Bar, Nikai, and Noodle Bar.IMG_6961  Clearly, there is a lot of Asian influence in his menus based on the names of the restaurants.  The interior was super busy but modern in design.IMG_6967IMG_6968Noodle Bar was at the bottom with communal seating while the other areas were more traditional in nature.  I’d highly recommend making reservations at Momofuku before you go.  If you’re wondering, Momofuku actually means “lucky peach” in Japanese, and I think a bit of that luck rubbed off on us since they put us right at the bar in front of the open kitchen.  It was all hustle bustle in the narrow corridor as we watched these artists whip together bowls of ramen, appetizers, and boil noodles like their lives depended on it. IMG_6971IMG_6966 We were ready to eat with the same gusto.  The menus were handed out to us, and we had a lot of tough decisions to make in a first world problems sort of way. IMG_6964 In the end, we made our choices which consisted of four courses for 25 bucks, and they came out very quickly based on how the chefs were working.  The first course took the form of a fancy fried jalapeno pepper for me. IMG_6978 It was stuffed with cream cheese and sturgeon, apparently and had a side of ssam sauce. IMG_6979 It was ok, and I didn’t even taste the sturgeon.  The ssam sauce pepped up the tiny pepper a bit with a sweet hint, but I’ve had better ones at your average bar.  Janice’s slightly larger hot and honey chicken wing was a better choice.  IMG_6976IMG_6977It lived up to its name with a garlic, sriracha, and scallion glaze that was both savory and sweet with a subtle spiciness.  After those tidbits, we got our bun course.  They were clearly inspired by the Chinese buns used for Peking duck, and they were hearty little buggers.  I’d recommend these menu items for appetizers.  My spicy lamb bun was very interesting. IMG_6985 The fluffy light bun encased a hunk of spiced lamb, bean sprouts, lettuce, and spicy mayo.  Biting into it, it tasted just like an Asian inspired gyro sans tzatziki sauce.  Janice’s pork bun was average. IMG_6986 Yeah, the ingredients were fresh, and it was well made.  It was just a bit blander compared to my vivacious lamb bun.  Then our entrees finally came out.  My very  extremely spicy noodle bowl was vibrant in terms of presentation and flavor.  Our waiter was pretty skittish when I said I wanted it spicy and even described it as “stupid spicy”, but I was skeptical of his assessment given my previous tussles with fiery meals.  He brought it out with a side of soy milk just to make sure the white boy didn’t lose his mind and taste buds,IMG_6981 but I think I lost them a long time ago when I discovered ghost pepper sauce.  It was spicy but with plenty of savory, smoky flavor.  It could have been a bit better if there was some sort of meat in it, but I was still happy with my choice.IMG_6982 If you like spicy food and have a tolerance for habanero or higher fire, then get this dish.

Good to the last ember

Good to the last ember

My girlfriend tried a bit, but immediately ran to her glass of water.  Janice’s Momofuku ramen was more savory than spicy. IMG_6983 It looked exactly like the ramen I tried in Japan, and it was just as tasty.  The fish cake, eggs, and melt in your mouth pork all were bobbing in a rich beef based broth.  IMG_6984The pork was exceptional with clear layers of succulent meat and juicy fat.

Absolutely gorgeous

Absolutely gorgeous

The noodles were plentiful and slurp-worthy,

She liked it just a little bit

She liked it just a little bit

so it was much more of a solid choice if you appreciate good ramen and less brash flavors compared to my spicy noodles.  Rounding out the meal were our desserts.  I decided to try Milk Bar’s cereal soft serve. IMG_6989IMG_6990 It looked like a run of the mill vanilla cup of ice cream, but its taste was unique.  It literally tasted like milk and cereal!  It was a cool concept, and I’d recommend it.  Janice was less satisfied with the crispy coffee panna cotta or “cooked cream” in Italian. IMG_6991 She was entertained with the chocolate balls on top that looked like rabbit poopIMG_6992 and the coffee layer was delicious, but the custard wasn’t up to snuff. IMG_6993 We left the restaurant greatly satisfied, and it was a pleasing end to a very eventful day.  If you’re into Asian cuisine or comfort food or both, head on down to Momofuku if you have a chance.
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Catching Some Delicious Zzzs

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Welcome one and all to another molto bene Mastication Monologues!  Today’s entry deals with a food that has recently been linked to the epidemic of childhood obesity:  pizza.  Sadly, kids may love this cheesy treat, but it doesn’t love them back.  Still, who can honestly admit that they don’t enjoy a fresh slice right out of the oven with your favorite toppings from your favorite spot without any of the fuss of shopping, cooking, and then cleaning dishes?  This wonderful feeling of culinary satisfaction can be found at a local pizza spot by me called Zazzo’s Pizza in Darien, IL.

While I have had my fair share of different types of pizza from different parts of the globe, Zazzo’s is one of the front runners for a great thin crust pie.  I had never really paid it much mind as I went about my business to the the various stores in the area, but one day my parents had a coupon for it.  Thus the legend was born in my knowledge of all things food.  So, I decided to bring my girlfriend to the local eatery for dinner.  I was surprised to find that this pizzeria bought out the empty storefront next to it to build a new bar and dining room which essentially gave them ten times the capacity for revenue.  They’ve come a long way from the three tables along the front windows.  The new digs had a basic sports bar vibe, so no need for any sort of fancy attire.  IMG_4888The menu had the same no-frills approach as they focused on bar food and Italian cuisine. IMG_4887 We started the meal by sharing an order of spinach artichoke dip ($9.95).  This was a great appetizer since it came with both hot, crust Italian bread along with warm pita bread triangles. IMG_4889 The dip was also warm with a nice sprinkling of fresh Parmesan cheese that gave the artichoke chunks a slightly salty and nutty aftertaste. IMG_4891 We then went for the 14″ Veggie Special thin crust pizza ($21.10).  Now, it serves three, but when I’m hungry, I can really throw down, especially when it comes to Zazzo’s.  When it came out, it was just as good as I remembered it.  IMG_4892It was large and in charge with an enticing smell that immediately tells you that you’re in for a treat.  The Veggie Special consisted of an adequate amount of mozzarella combined with mushroom, green pepper, onion, and fresh tomatoes. IMG_4896 Each ingredient was as plentiful and fresh as the next.  As for the sauce, it was just the right amount where the crust wasn’t dry, but it also wasn’t gushing out with each bite like you’re doing your best Jaws impression (the killer shark, not the killer giant from the James Bond series).  IMG_4895Then there was the crust.  I believe that this foundation of the pizza can either make or break the dish, and in Zazzo’s case I love their thin crust.  It’s not super NYC thin but not deep dish thick.  It has a light powdering of flour on the edges, and it has an almost airy like texture with a crunch that doesn’t hold back.  All of these elements make it one of the hidden gems of the pizza world in the Chicagoland area.

So if you are looking for a great pizza place in the western Chicago suburbs and don’t want to visit one of the big pizza chains like Giordanos or Uno’s, check out the pizzeria with a lot of pizzazz:  Zazzo’s Pizza!

Zazzo's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Bittersweet Symphony

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The summer is slowly but surely winding down, Mastication Monologues readers, but that doesn’t mean that the posts are going to be slowing down as well.  While things have been getting a bit tenser on the job front with my federal application, I always manage to forget about my troubles with a good meal like at Paisan’s Pizzeria in Berwyn, IL.

Throughout Mastication Monologues, I’ve tried pizza in various parts of the United States and world, and have weighed in on what my personal preferences are when it comes to the doughy delight.  So, I thought that perhaps Paisan’s could offer yet another dimension on the beloved Italian food.  I mean, the name of the place roughly translates to “friend/brother/sister/partner” in Italian, so already it exuded a welcoming atmosphere before I even set foot in the place.IMG_3799Upon walking into the establishment, my parents and I were awed at the overall size of the interior and design of this modern bar and grill.IMG_3803  It was like Portillo’s minus all of the faux 1920’s Prohibition gangster crap festooning the walls.  Instead, it had more of an industrial garage feel that felt edgy yet safe enough to have family gatherings there (which they do do in the back in their banquet rooms). IMG_3805 As we walked past tables full of happy  customers and gawking at the exposed ductwork, we were seated in a larger, more open dining area that was distinguished by two large aquariums.  There were three fish in one tank, but these puppies could have been mistaken for Leviathans.  The white one, who I dubbed “Moby Dick”, actually let me take his picture.

Thar he blows!

Thar he blows!

After meeting these aquatic locals, I looked over Paisan’s menu.  It was the embodiment of the Italian abbondanza (abundance) food culture where there was something for everyone to eat including appetizers, salads, wraps, barbecue, sandwiches, flatbreads, pasta, and pizza.  My family and I decided to go for the final option since I had a hankering for a good slice.  Paisan’s offers all varieties of pizza including specialty pies, thin crust, extra-thin (read:  New York City pizza), deep dish, stuffed, and Sicilian style which is like pizza made of foccacia.  Since we didn’t want to wait around for the thicker pizzas that take at least an hour to cook, we just ordered a cheese and sausage family size (16″, serves 3-4 people) thin crust pizza ($18).

It took about thirty minutes for the pizza to come out to our table, and I was starving by that time.  It passed the visual inspection with plenty of cheese and sausage covering the crust along with a perfectly bronzed and flour dusted crust.IMG_3810  I could tell this was authentic to Chicago’s pizza culture since it was cut in squares or more commonly known as a “party cut” since it’s easier to grab at a party along with giving more slices to more people.  However, much like the debate over who has the best pizza in Chicago, the polemic rages over which cut is better:  traditional slice or party?  Square or slice, I quickly tore into this beauty.  It was a nearly perfect pizza aside from two features I didn’t care for.  First, the sausage wasn’t seasoned with spices that give the pizza a slight herbal kick with each bite.  I assume that’s why Paisan’s has shakers full of oregano on each table to compensate for the absence of said seasonings.  The only other aspect of this meal I didn’t enjoy was the sauce.  There was a bit too much on it for my liking, and it had a sweet aftertaste that left me with a sour taste in my mouth.  While some enjoy the contrast of sweet in a typically savory dish, I’d get  just a cookie pizza if I wanted some of the sweet stuff on my pie.  These two negatives didn’t put much of a damper on the meal since I really enjoyed the copious amounts of cheese that covered every square inch of the slices, and the crust was crispy and neither burnt nor undercooked.  We polished off the pizza and were satiated.

After leaning back and feeling the food baby growing within me, I was happy but not blown away by the pizza.  It was competently made, but I could go elsewhere and find better in Chicago like at Apart or Home Run Inn.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have any room for their mouth-watering desserts or tempting gelato.  IMG_3809IMG_3808Oh well, until next time, my friend!

 

Paisans Pizzeria and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Dude…Mellow Out…Try This ‘Shroom

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After a week of fun in sun in Florida, I’m finally back in Chicago to wait and see if I finally get a job that would really be great for my career as a language instructor.  However, in the meantime I would like to present you with a bunch of posts relating my crazy food adventures in the Sunshine State.  Today’s entry involves a popular destination in Delray Beach, FL that is as delicious as it is funky in nature, Mellow Mushroom.IMG_2778

I had originally read about it on Wikitravel as having very creative pizza creations, so that naturally whetted my appetite for adventure.  We visited the fungus-inspired eatery on our first day in Florida, and the weather was beautiful.  They don’t have a lot of parking aside from their crackerbox-sized lot behind their establishment, but luckily street parking is plentiful out front.IMG_2779  They have both indoor and outdoor seating, but we opted for the latter in order to enjoy the sublime sun and breeze.IMG_2792  As we were led through the restaurant, it had a very laid back vibe to it with lots of psychedelic artwork along with some very well known pop culture references I enjoyed.IMG_2791 IMG_2793IMG_2788  The artwork and name of the restaurant made me wonder if they had a secret menu of “special” munchies based on the surroundings along with a sign that said, “Hippies use the side entrance”.  Far out, man…would be a good way to describe their menu in regard to their prices.  It’s not the cheapest pizzeria you could visit, but they certainly do have creatively named and designed pies (From 10 inches to 16 inches; gluten free dough is available as well) as I mentioned earlier along with sandwiches, salads, calzones, and appetizers.  I started off with a brew that I picked solely based on the name:  Monk In the Trunk ($7).

Daaammnnnn shorty!

Daaammnnnn shorty!

Like its title, this ale had plenty of aftertaste flavor as spicy and malty sweet flavors had a twerk-fest on my palate much to my elation.IMG_2785  As for pizza, I had the option of creating my own, but I instead wanted to see what the cooks in the back could whip up to satisfy my soul.  There were plenty choices that looked scrumptious, and eventually I settled on the 14″ Thai Dye pizza ($20).  When it came out, I immediately felt the good vibes with how fresh it looked.IMG_2789  It wasn’t as hefty as Chicago pan pizza but not as floppy as NYC’s slices. IMG_2790 I loved the fresh cucumber slices and fresh basil on top since they were drizzled with a sweet chili sauce that left me with a smoldering kiss with each bite.  Taken as a whole, the staff managed to combine a Thai chicken curry dish with a traditional pizza in perfect harmony.  The chicken was groovy and not rubbery, and the curry spices jazzed up the cheese every so often.  Eventually, I reached the crust which was chewy with a slight crunchy crust on the outside.  The most peculiar part of the crust was that it had ever so subtle cinnamon notes that I noticed through the garlic butter that was brushed on before going into the oven.  I almost finished the entire meal, but I was all carbed out by the end and could go no further.

My date home.

My date home.

So if you’re looking for quality, creative, and crazy pizzas at slighty expensive prices, rock out at Mellow Mushroom.
Mellow Mushroom on Urbanspoon

A Real Brew-Ha-Ha (Portland, Part 6)

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Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today is the penultimate installation of my Portland, Oregon adventures, and this post will finally touch on the craft brewing scene that Portland has to offer.

I met some new friends during one of the educational sessions on motivation in the classroom, and they seemed quite interested in inviting me out to dinner with them.  So after I had to do some schmoozing with some State Department representatives, I was on my way to Bridgeport Brewery located at 1313 NW Marshall Street Portland, OR 97209.  It was a bit of a pain for me to get there by the streetcar system, but it seemed to be no problem for the girls by car.  The exterior of the restaurant looked more like a Victorian factory where I half expected to find rows of women churning out textiles while small urchins scampered about fixing broken down weaving machines. IMG_2677 Thankfully, the interior is much classier than a sweatshop, and the service is quite cordial. IMG_2678 After roughly a 20 minutes wait, we were escorted to our table.  We started with some drinks which naturally were beers.  I first went for a pint of limited edition Old Knucklehead ($7) brewed at Bridgeport.IMG_2680  It’s a barley wine ale which is very aggressive in flavor initially but has a soft finish of oak, cherry, and a bit of vanilla.  I also tried their very rare cherry chocolate stout ($8) that also is brewed at the restaurant that lived up to it’s name.  Think Guinness mixed with a very hearty black forest cake.  Foodwise, they have all the basic gastropub foods like burgers, sandwiches, soups, and salads, but I wanted to try something different (go figure).  I looked down their “favorites” section of the menu, and I cast my bet with the chicken souvlaki ($10).  I know I could probably get much better back home in Chicago, but I decided to see the xeni (non-Greek people) take on this Mediterranean classic.  It came out with my beer, and it looked a lot better than the pasta and burgers people got. IMG_2679 The Greek dish was a solid meal.  The pita was warm and fluffy, and the tomatoes and lettuce were fresh.  The chicken pieces were succulent and not rubbery, a common pitfall for any chicken dish.  I personally think it could have used more tzatziki sauce and feta cheese, but it didn’t make that much of a difference.  The souvlaki also came with a side of vegetable couscous salad which was competently made but didn’t make me shout “Opa!”.

Overall, in regard to Bridgeport Brewery, I would follow the advice of my friend who is a native to Portland and was at dinner with us, “Come for the beer, stay for more beer.  Food is secondary or maybe tertiary in Portland gastropubs”.  Well put, sir.
Bridgeport Brewpub & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Hauntingly Delicious (Portland, Part 3)

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Boo!  Scared ya, didn’t I?  Today’s Mastication Monologues entry will be dealing with another Portland institution that I visited during my brief yet enjoyable stay there.  After a long day of learning about how to be a better teacher and help my students speak the Englishes more good, I knew I had to get out and see some of the city.  After looking over Wikitravel, I decided to get one of my favorite foods, pizza, at Old Town Pizza.  There are two different locations, one in the northwest part of the city and the other, the brewery, on the east side of the river.  However, reading further I found out the northwest location on Davis is supposedly haunted and a “must-do” for anyone who comes to Portland.  Ghosts and rave reviews?  I’m sold!

The actual story of the ghost revolves involves sex, slavery, and mystery.  Back in the late 1800s, some of the local timber barons built the Merchant Hotel where Old Town Pizza now stands.  Along with offering guests rooms and beds, the hotel also had the option for customers of the male persuasion to buy hookers to help them “enjoy” said rooms and beds.  One girl, Nina, was sold into this prostitution ring against her will.  Thankfully, a local missionary group was attempting to shut the hotel/bordello down, and Nina became an informant for them.  Unfortunately, she suffered a terrible fate for her attempt to shut down the house of ill repute as her corpse was found at the bottom of an elevator shaft which is now a booth in the restaurant.  Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see the ghost of this departed dearie…

Anyway, I managed to find the restaurant quite easily after a quick stroll through Portland’s underwhelming Chinatown. IMG_2594 I knew it was going to be a quirky place when it said on the door that they only were closed on Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. IMG_2602 I don’t know if that’s a joke or not, but I did enjoy the randomness.  Upon walking into the dark interior, it added to the ambiance of it being a haunted former hotel.  The staff was the Portland I was expecting complete with tattoos, ironic facial hair, and plenty of piercings, but that didn’t take away from their service.  They supplied me with a menu, and then I had to order at a booth that was attached to the kitchen.  Note:  the entrance was the former lobby of the Merchant Hotel, and the ordering booth was the reception desk.

Ordering booth

Ordering booth

I put in my order of a small original house pizza which contained signature pepperoni, salami, mushrooms, olives, bell peppers and topped with house made sausage. .  10 inches for $14.50 is a little expensive for my taste, but then again I was on vacation in a haunted restaurant.  They gave me a playing card with the two of diamonds on it as their way of keeping the orders straight, and it’s the only place in the world I’ve seen them do that.  I then moved on to the bar next to the ordering booth where my hipster bartender hooked me up with an Old Joe Chocolate Dark Ale that was brewed at the Old Town Brewery.IMG_2595  Once the pint glass of dark ambrosia was in my mitt, I had the task of finding my own seating.  To my dismay, my original seat I scoped out was already taken.  So after wandering through the packed restaurant I found an empty seat that would accommodate me and make Harry Potter feel at home since it was under the staircase going up to the second floor.  It was a lot more comfortable than it sounds since I had plenty of room for my head, and I would describe it more as a cozy experience.

Nina's corpse was found along the back wall of this room where I ate.

Nina’s corpse was found along the back wall of this room where I ate.

After about half an hour, my hand tossed pizza finally came out.  It looked wonderfully flush with toppings, but I had a hard time trying to find the cheese under them.IMG_2596  It was piping hot, so I sipped on my Old Joe while it cooled off.  I really liked the ale because it was a full bodied libation  that had whispers of chocolate/coffee in every drop.  Eventually my pie cooled off enough for me to actually touch it, but I found the bottom crust to be quite floppy which I really didn’t like since the toppings were cascading down my fingers as I attempted to transfer a slice to my smaller plate.IMG_2598  I was eating it with a fork and a knife for the wrong reason.  The only type of pizza I should be eating with a knife and a fork is deep dish because it’s piled so high with toppings, not thin crust because it doesn’t even have the constitution for basic ingredients.  Structural problems aside, I found the flavors and ingredients to be delightful.  The peppers stood out for me as they weren’t soggy and baked to have a crisp, clean snap that jived with the savory and spicy pepperoni.  It didn’t seem like they focused a lot on the cheese since it was buried under waves of ruby red marinara sauce that was slightly sweet but not overwhelmingly so.  Then at the end of each piece, there was a substantial crust that was on the chewier side and had a strange but pleasing cinnamon undertone.  By the time I finished the last piece, I was stuffed with some hauntingly good pizza.

I don’t think it can measure up to New York or Chicago pizza, but Old Town Pizza is a slightly pricy but quality dining experience with plenty of ambiance that won’t scare you away.
Old Town Pizza on Urbanspoon

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