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South Carolina (Day 2): Hoppin’ John and a Carolina Fried Chicken Ring

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Welcome back to Mastication Monologues, and if you haven’t been back here lately, I am currently recounting the tale of when Janice and I went to Charleston, South Carolina.  Here’s the first installment for your reading pleasure.  The second day is also full of history, good eats, and one of the greatest moments of my life:  proposing to Janice.  So, buckle up because you’re about to read one of the greatest love stories since Jon Snow and Ygritte minus the whole being shot through with a bunch of arrows and tragic death part.

After that first day of gallivanting about the Chuck, as the locals call Charleston, we decided to get out of the hubbub of the city and visit the Middleton Plantation.  However, before we even left the house, I realized that this was the day I would propose to Janice.  I was planning on doing it at the Angel Oak tree after visiting the Middleton Plantation, but now I needed to figure out how to carry the ring.  I could have worn my coat, but it was a warm day outside.  Luckily, before we left Chicago, I had stowed a piece of gauze in one of my jean pockets.  So, when Janice was showering, I went to my backpack where the ring was hidden in my backpack back at the security line in Chicago.  I took out the box, which was too big for my jean pockets, and removed the beautiful ring.  I wrapped it in the gauze, removed some business cards from an interior pocket in my wallet, and placed the ring in that very same pocket.  Mission partially complete.  I played it cool when Janice asked if I was ready to go,ee6cff1497840b03205d99e31d1c1cf3 and we made our way to the Middleton Plantation.

At the current moment in America, race relations are continuing to grow tenser as the country becomes more diverse, and the race interactions established at the outset of our country through slavery and immigration can be seen today at this opulent 7,000 acre estate.  We decided to do the entire tour package, with included a house tour and carriage ride, but we had free time before we got to meet the horsies.  So, we decided to stroll about the grounds and marvel at the natural wonders that were planted and landscaped to perfection.  Some of the highlights were seeing the oak trees that dotted the walkways that ranged anywhere from 200 to 900 years old. IMG_8307 IMG_8308 IMG_8310 IMG_8311 IMG_8312 Mind you, the plantation was first established in 1730, and it actually is home to the oldest landscaped gardens in the United States.  Eventually, it was time to hitch a ride with a born and bred Charlestonian and two old ladies, horses that is.  Janice could hardly contain her excitement as they clip clopped their way to the pickup point and into Janice’s heart.

Cue emotional music

Cue emotional music

IMG_8314

We climbed aboard the old carriage and took off as our driver explained the history of the plantation to us.  IMG_9177The Middleton plantation was not mainly a working plantation but rather a country estate.  That is not to say that there weren’t slaves who worked there, but they were either employed as house servants, lumberjacks to harvest the timber, rice planters in the large rice paddies off the Ashley River, or grow and collect indigo to a lesser extent.IMG_9169  This was not your stereotypical cotton plantation.  The real money was in the signature gold grain Carolina rice which was well suited for the humid Carolina weather and the planters’ profit margins.  We went about the ground looking at the farm house complete with one of the male horses who wanted to bust out of his pen and the famous layabout known as Rocky the guinea hog. IMG_8315 There was also one of the former slave houses next to the animal pens.  We learned that the slave quarters were raised off the ground because it was a way to offer a bit of cool air in an otherwise brutal environment.IMG_9233  By the time we reached the end of our journey, the horses were ready to get some hay and a nap, but we still managed to get some pics with these local celebrities.

Bffls!

Bffls!

All of that excitement going 2 miles per hour with a slight breeze in our hair worked up our appetites, so Janice and I decided to try the plantation restaurant which was housed in a former guest house.  IMG_8323We were led to the main dining room that was overlooking the lily pond. IMG_8322 We looked over the menu which was filled with plenty of Low Country classics. We quickly made our choices since we had to finish our meal before our house tour.  Janice got an order of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and cornbread, and I got the pecan smoked pork shoulder with Carolina gold mustard sauce.  Before they brought out our food, they also asked if we wanted sweet tea, regular tea, or water.  Naturally, I went for the sweet tea, and Janice got the unsweetened tea.  I was so happy with my sweet tea for one main reason:  it was actually sweet.  McDonalds back home always would promote their sweet tea during the summertime, and I love my sweet iced tea.  When I got it, it tasted like plain black tea poured over some ice.  Naturally, I had to go to the South where they know how to make it correctly.  Then the food came out, and we had to hold ourselves back from going full Cookie Monster on these enticing plates.  My pecan smoked pork shoulder took me to hog heaven. IMG_8320 It was melt-in-your mouth tender, and the smoky flavor mixed perfectly with the slightly sweet mustard sauce.   The creamed green beans were good but not great.  However, I enjoyed the Hoppin’ John on the side.  This southern staple has been around as long as African slaves have been in the USA, and the name is thought to have come from the possible corruption of the Haitian creole for pigeon peas or “pois pigeons” ([pwa pi jahns]).  It was a scaled back version of the richer version that southerners serve on new year’s day with green elements like kale or peppers to symbolize luck and money.  The rice was perfectly cooked with a bit of salt and pepper with plenty of black beans, and I would highly recommend mixing it with the pork.  Janice was equally satisfied with her fried chicken. IMG_8321 The breading was light and gave way to the juicy all white meat chicken below the surface.  I was more of a fan the plantation cornbread since it didn’t skimp on the butter and sugar compared to the more crumbly and savory cornbread at Husk.  While I am averse to eating any type of pasta (yes, I’m a monster), Janice gave the macaroni and cheese two thumbs up.  The collard greens were ok, but not as satisfying as the ones at Hominy Grill.  By the time we were finished, we had to get up and get moving because it was almost time to start our house tour.  Janice was going to pay the bill, but she couldn’t find her credit card.  I paid the bill instead, and we assumed it must have been left in the car.  As we walked past the house for the house tour to see one of the oldest trees on the estate, we heard someone call out, “Excuse me!”.  We turned around to see two older women walking toward us, and they asked Janice if her name was “Janice Kim”.  She replied in the affirmative, and it turned out that two different people had found her drivers license and her credit card in two different areas and turned both in to the visitors’ center.  This was a prime example of Southern hospitality and manners.  We decided to pick the cards up when we would leave, so we went to snap some pictures with the 900 year old oak tree, the same river where they blew up the British ships in the movie the Patriot, and the burned down houses.IMG_9181 IMG_9183IMG_8324IMG_9173  After successfully being insignificant next to this natural giant, we went to our house tour.  It was originally built in 1755, but is only one of the original three houses left standing.  The main house and the north flanker house were burned down by Union troops during the Civil War.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any pictures, but we were up to our necks in historical facts including the lodging being home to Henry Middleton’s son, Arthur, who signed the Declaration of Independence.  We highly recommend checking out the rich mahogany interiors if you love architecture, history, shiny things, and/or how high class society lived.  By the time we emerged from that time capsule, we had to make a decision about what we wanted to see before they closed up the Angel Oak park.  We decided to pick up the all important credit card and drivers license and check out the gift shops.  Janice was on the hunt for souvenirs while I was secretly having time anxiety and subsequent sweats. Visit http://kratomcrazy.com for help on how to fight anxiety in a natural way. She would ask me for opinions on magnets and rice while I was starting to run in place (in my head).  Janice eventually picked up my vibe, and we got to the car quickly.  We had to make the ride from northern Charleston down to John’s Island quick because we had about a hour before the park closed.  Thankfully, we made it with enough time, and on the way, Janice was seriously doubting whether or not I was ever going to propose to her.  She wasn’t joking, and neither was I.  Perfect timing to put a ring on it.  I realized I had to get the rock out of the interior pocket of my wallet, and I managed to do so as Janice rushed toward the tree with her selfie stick.IMG_9186  The Angel Oak is estimated to be over 1500 years old and what a more romantic place to pop the question?  It is one of the biggest and most sprawling trees I’ve ever seen.  We took some pictures on one side of the tree, and I was analyzing the best place to do the deed. IMG_9187 Cue the palm sweat and shifty eyes.  Janice was none the wiser as we walked under the massive branches.IMG_9188  We moved to the back side of the tree, and there wasn’t anybody around.  This was it.  My heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest as I fumbled for the ring in the gauze and placed it in my hand.  She turned around and everything I had planned to say went out the window.  I said that it was a fitting place since she was my angel.  I could see she was shaking her head due to the high levels of cheesiness in the atmosphere, but then she knew something was afoot when I dropped to my knee.  I choked out my request to spend the rest of my life with her, and her response was like something out of Shakespeare:  *cue crying, some laughing* “I’m holding my selfie-stick”.  Just like in the movies!  I was still waiting on my knee with the ring in my hand as she was more worried about her contraption.  Eventually she took the ring and put it on her finger while still profusely crying with me on bended knee.  Janice finally said “yes” through the tears, and I could get out of the power lunge of the century.  It felt like we were floating on air beneath this relic of antiquity, and we even had an audience eventually who clapped for us. IMG_9191 Once we finally got a picture in front of the tree with her new ring, we proceeded to let the world know of our engagement.IMG_8337  We were then at a loss at what to do next, so I suggested that we could go for a romantic stroll along the river walk in downtown Charleston.  It was the perfect setting as new fiance and fiancee as we watched the sunset, poochies running in the park, and the Citadel cadets getting some fresh air.IMG_8333IMG_8431 All of the aforementioned events had made us quite hungry, so luckily I managed to find a romantic restaurant to celebrate known as High Cotton.

High Cotton oozed class.  IMG_8345It seemed like we stepped into a time machine to an old mansion complete with an antique bar, dark wood accents, and tropical ceiling fans.IMG_9099 IMG_9098 IMG_9097  It is a moderately dressy place, so don’t expect to fit in with your tank tops and jorts.  We were seated at a table in the main dining room, and our waiter informed us of Charleston’s restaurant week which meant there was a special menu where we were able to choose an appetizer, entree, and dessert for the low low price of $40.  Overall though, High Cotton is a restaurant that focuses on local ingredients and classic Low Country recipes.  We also told him of our very recent engagement, so he treated us to a pair of complimentary champagne flutes.  For our appetizer round, I got the fried green tomatoes napoleon which were the bread to a pimento cheese sandwich and surrounded by pickled shrimp. IMG_8340 I found it to be satisfying and surprisingly light even though it was deep fried, and the pimento cheese was like a thick, spicy cheddar with the consistency of peanut butter.  The shrimp were also pleasing even though they were pickled.  Janice’s blue crab soup was ok. IMG_9100 It was savory with a hint of sweetness that came along with the blue crab.  We moved on to our entrees with gusto.  My 8 oz. beef tenderloin with Bearnaise sauce, horseradish mashed potatoes, and Brussels sprouts were fit for a king.  IMG_8341Everything was phenomenal.  The mashed potatoes were creamy with just the right amount of sinus-clearing horseradish.  The Brussels sprouts were roasted and slightly burnt and crunchy but not terribly charred.  As for the meat and sauce, it was grilled to optimum juiciness which wasn’t overshadowed by the rich Bearnaise sauce.  Can’t say enough good things about this dish.  Janice’s shellfish and ravioli had a lot of fresh seafood from the nearby harbor including clams, shrimp, and crab along with peas and ravioli in a Parmesan sauce.  IMG_9101I didn’t try the ravioli, but the clams were extraordinarily good.  Our waiter said that the clams in the Low Country are actually better than oysters, but they don’t get the hype they deserve because they aren’t as sexy as their supposed aphrodisiac cousins.  Couldn’t agree more with him.  Janice thought the plate overall was ok though.  Thankfully, dessert didn’t disappoint.  I ordered the chocolate bread pudding complete with candied pecans, bourbon caramel, and vanilla ice cream.  Need I say more? IMG_8342 It was slightly warm which melted the ice cream which went along with the smoky caramel and crunchy pecans.  It infused the semi-sweet, spongy dough of the bread pudding with a heavenly taste.  Janice went with one of her favorite desserts:  the vanilla bean creme brulee with a Carolina twist with tea infused citrus segments. IMG_9102 The burnt sugar on top was a golden brown with a luscious and moderately rich cream below.   By the time we reached the final spoonful, we were not only in love with each other but with High Cotton’s fare, atmosphere, and service.  We made our way out and enjoyed a bit of the jazz quartet in the bar that was not performing when we first walked in.  However, it was a classy end to a day filled with viewing history past, making history of our own, and plans for the future.  If you’ve successfully made it to the end of this post, congrats and there are plenty more adventures to come!

Middleton Place Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
High Cotton Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A Capital Idea!

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Welcome one and all to part deux of Restaurant Week on Mastication Monologues!  If you’re not sure what Restaurant Week is in Chicago, then I highly recommend reading my first post at Hub 51.  Today’s post is somewhat in the similar but even classier vein of high end dining for low low prices.  While I’m all about trying new and exotic foods, my meal at Capital Grille in Chicago was classic steakhouse dining at its finest.  While it’s not one of the old stalwarts of steak in the home of the dearly departed Union stockyards, I really enjoyed my experience at this establishment.

While walking to Capital Grille, I saw that they had valet parking which is a great deal in a part of down that isn’t known for cheap/free parking.  The outside was just a hint of the regal interior inside that had all the pomp of a classic steakhouse down to the dark wood bar and portraits of random white guys sporting some facial hair that would make any modern day hipster proud. IMG_5810IMG_5834IMG_5833 IMG_5832 Capital Grille even has personal wine kiosks for clients who are willing to pony up the cash for their pinot noir, but the coolest thing I thought was that they even had a cabinet for wine for what seemed to be for anyone who is or has served in the armed forces. IMG_5835 I was quickly led to the table for our guys night out that quickly became a double date plus two dudes.  Still, it was a good time had for all as we kicked off the dinner with some drinks.  I got a glass of the Jameson 12 year Reserve.IMG_5815  This drink was smoother than James Bond and Ron Burgundy in a velvet room.  It was the perfect compliment to the free bread basket that was filled to the brim with crisp flatbreads, warm slices of black rye bread, and rock hard rolls (not a fan, personally). IMG_5813 So, since it was Restaurant Week, I went with the accompanying $33 menu which was a bargain for a three course meal.  For my first course, I went with the wedge with blue cheese and applewood smoked bacon.  Initially, I had to ask the waitress what a “wedge” was since I was curious what this wedge consisted of, and she sarcastically answered that it was a type of salad.  When it came out, it all made sense.  Looking at it, it seemed like the laziest salad ever created. IMG_5817 It literally was a quarter of a head of lettuce with dressing and bacon pieces adorning it and sliced tomatoes placed at the foot of this odd looking dish.  So, I proceeded to sliced the lettuce piece to bite-sized pieces along with mixing it up with the extremely decadent ranch, blue cheese chunks, and bacon.  It was the Paula Dean of salads given how fattening it was yet oh so tasty with the tangy dressing mixing with the salty bacon and pungent blue cheese.  It was only a prelude to the epic entree that came out soon thereafter in the form of the 14 oz. bone-in, dry aged sirloin steak along with a side of mashed potatoes and french beans with heirloom tomatoes. IMG_5824 Funnily enough, the girls at the table got the smaller, 8 oz. filet mignon, but that didn’t take away from its quality. IMG_5823 When I dug into the sirloin, it was heaven in meat form.  I got it medium rare which meant that it still was a bit bloody but well done enough to keep in all of the juicy flavors. IMG_5825 It was superbly succulent, and a generously sized piece of steak for the price.  The sides were equally exquisite.  The mashed potatoes were creamy and buttery, and the beans were neither too firm nor too soft.IMG_5822  Then there were the desserts…lord, the desserts.  First, I got the flourless chocolate espresso cake.IMG_5830  It was like a slice of fudge that wasn’t as sugary and not as crumb based as a typical slice of cake.  This texture combined with the intense dark chocolate flavor with coffee hints in each forkful made it hard to beat, and the raspberry sauce was the icing on a cake without equal.  My other dining companions tried the creme brulee which looked lip-smacking good, but sadly I didn’t get to try it. IMG_5831 However, based on their gleaming white bowls at the end of the dessert course, I could only assume they liked it!

So if you want to try a slice of Chicago’s steak culture in the heart of the city, check out Capital Grille.
The Capital Grille on Urbanspoon

The Saint Baby Back Rib Day Massacre

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Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.

W. C. Fields
Chicago is truly a world-class city with amazing attractions and a truly intriguing history.  Whether that be the foundation of the city by a black pioneer to the Great Fire to the legacy that is Ditka and Da Bulls/Michael Jordan, but nothing is more iconic than the era of Prohibition.  While New York may have been known as a rough and tumble city up until recently, Chicago has been filled with gangsters, murders, and crooked politicians from day one until now.  They don’t call it Chiraq (Chicago + Iraq) for nothing.Gun-Control-Chicago  While the small gang block squabbles today have been tearing apart communities on the West and South sides, Al Capone infamously instilled a wave of fear throughout the city utilizing mental and physical intimidation.  It speaks volumes about the man’s influence given that there are still tours highlighting his hangouts, Valentine’s Day Massacre site, and his numerous speakeasies.  One such former speakeasy still exists in Chicago in the form of Twin Anchors.  While the actual building dates back from 1881 and the restaurant from 1932, the food and brews served there are timeless.
The facade of the building is extremely inconspicuous, but surprisingly it was the favorite hangout for Frank Sinatra and even was used in the Dark Knight as a scene with Two Face (you can see the same anchors in the windows).

IMG_3514IMG_3515  While Janice and I didn’t expect to see Ol’ Blue Eyes or Harvey Dent meting out his unique form of justice during our visit, the bar was hopping just like during the “dry” era of Prohibition.IMG_3517  There was a twenty minute wait, but suddenly we got a table right at the entrance in the dining room after a two minute wait.IMG_3518 It didn’t look like the interior had changed since the 1940s or 1950s, and it really was a no-nonsense sort of place with their “Positively…no dancing!” sign above the entrance. IMG_3521 The modern touches were mainly all of the signs from modern tv programs that have interacted with this wonderful eatery including the fitting period series Boardwalk Empire.  While I wasn’t sure what to order since I had never been there, and I was feeling the effects of some day drinking, Janice helped me out.  We split a full rack of their famous ribs ($23 or $16.50 for half) and picked our complimentary sides:  onion rings for me and baked beans for Janice.  To drink, I got an Obsidian Stout.  If you’re not into ribs, they do have other forms of meat like steaks, shrimp, chicken or sandwiches or salads if you’re taking it easy on the old cholesterol.  Before the ribs arrived, we got a basket of crackers, small packages of sesame breadsticks, and big slices of black rye bread with butter on the side.  It was like being at one of the South side family restaurants but on the North side.  I half expected a free cup of soup to come along with the meal, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.  The rye bread was great though since it was fresh, hearty, and earthy with plenty of caraway seeds.  My beer came out first, and it wasn’t anything that grabbed my attention.IMG_3523  It was a solid, chocolate and coffee tinged porter that also had a hoppy bite that proved to be the ideal partner for the culinary experience I was about to undergo.

Civilized

Civilized

Eventually the ribs came out, and they didn’t look like anything new or special. IMG_3524 However, Janice informed me that they were slathered in their Prohibition sauce which was to die for.  I asked her if it was because like Prohibition it was spicy and illegal, and my prediction was correct.  Apparently, it is a smoky sauce infused with cracked black pepper, brown sugar, and a hint of the dastardly hot ghost pepper.  I have tangled with the ghost pepper before in a challenge and won, and it didn’t put a damper on this dinner either.  I have to say that these were, sauce-stained hands down, the best ribs I’ve ever eaten.  Not only was there plenty of meat on every rib, but it literally fell off the bone when I gently picked each piece up.  The sauce to meat ratio was ideal since each piece was at least 90 percent coated with a thin layer of the sweet, smoky, and spicy marinade.  I could swim in it though since it was that lip-smacking good.  Lord, there was a minimal amount of fat on these ribs, and my plate looked like the remnants a summer feast at Hannibal Lecter’s house.

Savage

Savage


 IMG_3529My face and hands looked the part by the time I was done as well.  Janice said she never saw someone eat ribs so fast as well.  The onion rings were scrumptious, but I was simply in awe still from the ribs.  I tried some of Janice’s baked beans too which had pieces of shredded pork in it.  IMG_3527It was a great twist on a classic bbq side.  I could only get one forkful in since I was ready to keel over.  To say I was merely satisfied with the meal, would have done the chef a disservice.

Long story short, if you enjoy history, bars with character, and/or food that is out of this world, sail off to Twin Anchors!

Twin Anchors on Urbanspoon

Come On Baby Light My Fire

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Hello to everyone out there again in the blogosphere to another installment of Mastication Monologues!  I will attempt to keep this post short and sweet since I am fighting off the effects of a food coma from a delicious grad school graduation dinner.  I ended up going to Wildfire located at 232 Oakbrook Center Oak Brook, IL 60523.

Wildfire is a Lettuce Entertain You establishment and has created a reputation as one of Chicago’s/Chicagoland’s premier American eateries.  When walking into this restaurant, it has the ambiance of a bygone era where you would expect to see the Rat Pack at the bar and the maitre d’ to offer the female patrons a cigarette to calm their nerves and keep a slim figure (For those non-smokers, thankfully the smooth, bold flavor infused part of that aforementioned bygone era is gone).  Anyway, we sat down at a booth that had a perfect view of the dining room, and we were immediately welcomed by our waitress with a complementary plate of breads.  One mini-loaf was an airy, buttery poppy-seed and onion concoction that was delectable, and the other, more globular loaf was a dark pumpernickel with both light and dark raisins.  Personally, I preferred the onion bread to the pumpernickel, but the latter tasted more like a dessert type of bread due to the presence of fruit and nuts in the bread.  Either way you cut it, they both were the best thing since sliced bread.IMG_1057

As for my main course, I went with the Eight Hour Barbecue Platter.  It was the Dinner Special for Wednesday nights, and I feel like the name comes from the amount of time it should take a normal person to finish all of the food.  However, I usually am hungrier than the average bear, so I naturally destroyed my meal in no time.IMG_1060 Now I know that the picture does not do the meal justice since it isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing plate, but it truly was a meal of kings.  I started off with the pulled pork (right hand side, in front of the corn muffin) that literally melted in my mouth with a smoky, southern twang aftertaste.  After I finished that mini-mound of pork paradise, I moved on to the sliced brisket (left side of plate) which still possessed a similar savory personality but was a bit on the dry side.  The baby back ribs were a mere afterthought at this point, but the meat was perfectly seasoned and fell of the bone which made eating them a breeze.  I’m not the biggest fan of beans in general, and the beans they served me were no exception to my dislike.  They weren’t terrible since they were simmering in the same barbecue sauce they used for the different meats, but they really did not bring anything different to the meal aside from a change in texture.  Nevertheless, I was glad that I left the cornbread muffin for last because it was a sweet, bright yellow beacon of fluffy goodness shining through the shadows of the barbecue smoke.  For dessert, we ended up getting an apple crumble which made my inhibitions crumble as I proceeded to tear down its caramel coated ice cream dome and combine it with its graham cracker and apple pie filling like some sort of confectionery hungry Godzilla.  If you love apple pie or apple/cinnamon anything, I highly recommend this dessert, but remember to save some room for this monster.IMG_1061

So if you’re looking for a classy restaurant for a power lunch, a special dinner, or just a great place to catch up with friends and colleagues, check out Wildfire!

Wildfire Oak Brook on Urbanspoon

Wildfire on Foodio54

The Fattest Steak in the West

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Howdy, y’all!!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues.  Today I bring you an entry that truly lives up to its culinary heritage and more.  This week I went to Longhorn Steakhouse out in the Chicago suburbs located at 708 North Janes Avenue  Bolingbrook, IL 60440.

Roy Rogers’ home away from home

I didn’t really have much of an opinion of this restaurant before visiting it due to the fact that the number of steakhouses we have in Chicago/the Chicagoland area is simply a reflection of our long-term infatuation with the perfect slice of meat.  At one point, Chi-town was known more colorfully as the “Butcher for the World” where according to the Chicago Tribune, “At the (stock)yards’ peak in 1924, more than 18.6 million cattle, hogs and sheep passed through that labyrinth.”  However, even though our abattoirs have long left the city limits, Longhorn Steakhouse is an homage to meat, Texas-style.  Upon walking into the door, I felt like I walked into Rattlesnakes steakhouse on King of the Hill.  There was plenty of country music pumping through the sound system and half a head of cattle festooning the walls alongside beautiful landscape oil paintings of Texas.  While our waiter mumbled his way through a standard greeting, he supplied us with a complimentary bread basket.  It seemed to be a wheat, possibly honey wheat, boule that was pre-sliced and served with butter.  I wished they’d give us warmer butter than the cold sphere nestled in its black cup, but the hot bread melted it in a jiffy.  For my main meal, I ordered the Parmesan crusted chicken which came with a side salad and a side.

This is your heart on cholesterol

The salad was pretty tasty especially since they had chipotle ranch.  It added a great zing to a classic dressing, and the greens were a mix of lettuce, purple cabbage, kale, and peppers.  I’m not a huge crouton fan, so I was somewhat annoyed with their prodigious numbers inhabiting the bowl.  I think I already had my fill of bread with the aforementioned basket, thank you.  Anyway, when my main course came out, I was definitely intimidated.  The common phrase about Texas is that everything’s bigger, and this plate was no different.  Instead of tucking into the chicken straight away, I decided to sample a bit of the mashed potatoes first.  I’m surprised they weren’t rocking a questionable haircut and an Armani suit because they were richer than Donald Trump.  The texture was creamy yet maintained some tasty chunks of potato, and butter cascaded down these gentle white slopes.  As for the chicken, it made my heart race…for the wrong reason.  From the very first mouthful, I could not get over the intensely rich Parmesan crust and cheese sauce which blotted out any trace of the chicken.  However, the actual chicken was quite tender even though it tasted like I was gnawing on a block of cheese.  If you have high cholesterol, avoid this dish, and if you don’t and really really love the taste of cheese, only then I’d recommend this meal.  Next time, I’d probably just get a lean steak to avoid this fatty conundrum.

So if you’re looking for a small piece of stereotypical Texas, mosey on down to Longhorn Steakhouse.  Happy Trails!

Longhorn Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

LongHorn Steakhouse on Foodio54

The Quay to a Man’s Heart Is Through His Stomach

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Hello everyone once again in the blogosphere to another addition to Mastication Monologues.  Unfortunately, it has been hotter than the inside of a Pepperoni Hot Pocket as of late in the Chicagoland area.  So while lurking about in my air-conditioned cocoon known as my house, I decided I might as well write about a delightful restaurant I visited a few weeks ago.  A friend, Maria Jose, was in town from New York, and she decided she wanted to try out this new place called Quay (pronounced “key” not “kway”; confusing, I know).  It is located at 465 East Illinois Street  Chicago, IL 60611 in the River East building.  Unbeknownst to me, I would be pleasantly surprised by her suggestion.

First, I was surprised at the location because I remember during my childhood the River East building being a hollow shell of an edifice mainly housing empty storefronts with the occasional video game arcade or art gallery, but it functioned mainly as a mooring hub for boats making their way out to the lake/Navy Pier.  Therefore, when I showed up to a buzzing and elegant restaurant with al fresco dining, I was gobsmacked.  There is valet parking for 12 dollars and is valid all night (I opted for this option), or you can park in the parking garage across the street.  As we entered, the decor of the restaurant was very sleek and modern with softer lighting in the bar area, and the staff were very friendly.

The main dining room.

We first split a bottle of Tangley Oaks, a Merlot from Napa which was a soft, full-bodied wine that was not too overwhelming (mind you, I am not a sommelier by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a pleasant compliment to my meal).  The menu boasted a variety of American options (steak, burgers), French cuisine (Tarte Flambe, Lamb au Poirve), and Italian cooking (Suckling Pig Porchetta, Insalata Caprese).  For dinner, I decided to order the Spring Risotto which contained fava beans, english peas, braised radish, spring onions pecorino pepato, and truffled nettle puree.  Unfortunately, I was unable to take a picture of this tiny masterpiece, but it was elegantly presented on a simple white plate along with a drizzling of olive oil and a very dark vinaigrette to provide a bit of slightly bitter bite to the risotto.  The actual rice dish was very nicely balanced as the rice was not too soggy which sometimes can happen to cream-based rice dishes.  Another part of the dish that I enjoyed was the fact that all of the ingredients weren’t simply assimilated into the flavor background.  The english peas were served whole and not mashed contrary to their English heritage.  I am a huge fan of onions, and the spring onions strangely gave the risotto a slightly sweet aftertaste now and then which made me excited to explore more of the nooks and crannies in this mini-mound of goodness.  The pecorino pepato (peppered Italian cheese for those of you who don’t parla italiano) was lightly grated in thin, snow-white slices and perched gently atop Montecello Risotto.   This cheese lived up to its peppery name, but it was not very spicy for those worried about mouth scorching foods.  Plus, the heat of the risotto melted the cheese slightly which made it easier to mix into the rice and integrate it with the other flavors on my palate.

Whilst I was greatly enjoying myself, my friend Maria Jose had a slightly different dining experience.  She ordered the Oven Roasted Sea Bass with a side of grilled asparagus as a substitution for the baby spinach at no extra charge.  Upon tucking into the verdant and evenly grilled and seasoned spears, she found a small amount of hair.  She brought this up to our waiter who was visibly disturbed at this discovery, but he was a gentleman about it and the manager apologized/covered Maria Jose’s meal.  Our waiter even went above and beyond general hospitality and allowed us access to the lounge/bar in the back section of the restaurant even though there was a private function.  It has a lovely view of the Chicago River along with very tasteful furniture and a classy bar area.

The spacious lounge at the back of the restaurant

Upon returning to our table, we finished our main courses and split one of their special desserts for the night:  ice cream sandwiches made with homemade dark chocolate cookies and banana gelato on the inside along with a side of raspberry compote.  These small sandwiches lived up to the Latin phrase “Multum in Parvo” (A lot of stuff in a little package).  They were probably only as big as silver dollars, but the chocolate from the cookies meshed perfectly with the banana gelato to create a classier version of eating frozen chocolate bananas on a stick.  The raspberries also served as a subtle contrast to these two sweet elements with a  slightly sour contribution to the dessert course.

On the whole, I would recommend Quay to anyone who is looking to try out a new restaurant/bar/lounge in the Streeterville area for  a lunch or dinner before Navy Pier, a pre-movie meal, or just looking for a new place to expand your gastronomic horizons.  Even if your visit may seem like it is teetering on the verge of becoming un Inferno like ours was, the helpful staff and delicious food can definitely leave you feeling like you’re in Paradiso.

but leave molto felice. Eyyyy!

You may come in as happy as Dante…

Quay on Urbanspoon

High Steaks Dining (Somehow I Survived)

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A quick turnaround for my dear old blog, but here is another entry in the Mastication Monologues saga.  Today was no ordinary day since I actually didn’t feel like reverting back to my old tried and true haunts and ethnic cuisines.  Perhaps it was the sudden change in the weather which can only be likened to a drop from a blazing furnace to a sudden chill like a cold soda can to the back of your neck, or maybe I just wanted some STEAK being the natural carnivore that I am.  Luckily, I didn’t have to look any further than Al’s Charhouse located at 32 S. LaGrange Rd.  La Grange, IL 60525. which is right in the heart of bustling downtown LaGrange.

Upon arriving, I realized that I had been in this building many times before, but I had only visited Al’s latino counterpart on the upper level, Casa Margarita (another delicious Mexican eatery, fyi).  This time would be quite different as we descended the very large staircase to the entrance (I’m not quite sure how this would work out for those who are handicapped).  Immediately I knew they were going to play up their ties to the Wild West with plenty of cowboy and rancher paraphernalia adorning the walls.  The staff was quite cheerful, and we were waited upon right away.

People are really helpful around here

Yes, that is a rifle for a door handle.

Plus, there didn’t seem to be a strict dress code which was a nice change for a steak house.  As soon as we sat down, I realized this steakhouse was immediately different because the booths  actually had pillows for backrests which definitely made the dinner extra relaxing, and I later found out that their menus were called billboards because they literally covered up the width of the table when placed flat (cue an “everything’s bigger in Texas” joke haw haw)

We started off by ordering the spinach and artichoke dip that was accompanied by tortilla chips for dipping.  Due to my extreme hunger, I ended up finishing it all, but it was not anything special.  The cheese was quite bland, and the artichokes were a bit overdone.  On the plus side, the tortilla chips were very fresh, crisp, and not overly salty.  However, I just wasn’t wowed by it.  Luckily, the next course quickly changed my mind.

They soon brought out my mom’s French onion soup that I sampled along with my standard complimentary salad which comes with any sandwich or burger. The soup was a clear improvement on the aforementioned appetizer because it was adorned with a corona of ample, gooey cheese, a thoroughly soaked crust of bread lurked within the bowl, and a savory broth that melded these two different textures together into a semi-salty ambrosia.  Another noteworthy complimentary feature that stood out during this culinary interlude was the bread they provided:  a loaf of dark rye sans caraway seeds that were instead replaced by raisins and almonds.  It seemed like an odd concept at first, but the fact that they had cinnamon butter finally put the whole concept in perspective (almost like one of those 3-D pictures you can see once you step back and cross your eyes a bit).  Anyway, that loaf did not last long as the warm, expertly crafted bread was pulled apart faster than a pack of ravenous dogs attacking a giant Snausage.   Thus set the stage for the final act…the mega sandwich.

French Onion or Freedom Onion?

This Filet Bleu sandwich had four of my many favorite food elements for any meal:  steak (can never go wrong), garlic, cheese, and bread.  Unfortunately, all of the other previous food had filled me up to question whether or not I could finish off this monstrous plate of food.  Naturally, I said, “Damn, stomach integrity!”

and went straight into this mini-hubcap of a sandwich, au jus and all.  Best decision ever.  The bun, which is actually garlic bread on the inside, was very fresh and did not have either the overpowering buttery/garlicky taste or the crumb shower that normally accompanies typical garlic bread.  Instead, the garlic from the bun transitioned smoothly to the sultry blue cheese which whispered sweet nothings into my ear as I headed straight for the good stuff, the steak.

A platter for the Steak Gods

This very liberal helping of superbly grilled and seasoned steak medallions were succulent and tender enough to allow a clean bite all the way though.  The understated au jus also served as a culinary foil for the steak to shout its full flavor out to the world on the top of my taste-buds.  I also tried some of the fry wedges that came with the sandwich, and they were expertly made with a crunchy exterior that led to an oh-so creamy center.  Sadly, I could only make it half-way through the sandwich before I had to throw in the towel after this gastronomic decathlon, but I can’t help thinking that I was happy to have made the journey.

So if you’re looking for a lot of great, down home cuisine and want to feel like you’re in the middle of Texas while doing it, come down to Al’s Charhouse.  Believe me, Southern comfort and scrumptious cooking are not dead at this establishment.

Al's Char-house Steak House on Urbanspoon

Al's Char-House Banquets on Foodio54

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