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Category Archives: Desserts

Bearing the Grunt of Good Food

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

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

Hide and Seek at our own table

Hide and Seek at our own table

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

Short hair, don't care

Short hair, don’t care

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

R.J. Grunts on Urbanspoon

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.

The Upper Crust

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Italy is a country known for many cultural exports that range from supercars, beautiful people, political corruption with a real flourish, and a culinary legacy without equal.  From my own backyard to the other side of the world, I have seen variations on some well known Italian specialties like pizza along with some new inventions like the Italian beef sandwich.  A new food superstore called Eataly arrived in Chicago a few years ago and is the figurative baby of famed, Croc-donning chef Mario Batali.  There are currently locations all over the world in Chicago, NYC, Japan, Istanbul, Dubai, and of course, Italy. I had previously spoken with friends and family about their experiences within the establishment, and I heard nothing but rave reviews.  After waiting way too long to finally see what all the hubbub was about, I finally made the trek with my lovely girlfriend, Janice.

It was overwhelming right from the beginning as we walked through the monstrously large glass doors. IMG_3569 Not only that, but Eataly was dedicated to the one and only Ernest Hemingway.  Apparently Papa spent a good amount of time in the Veneto region of Italy which is known for its bountiful food and drink.IMG_3586  Then again, it made me think of the litany of restaurants and watering holes throughout the world that try to cash in on Hemingway’s legacy. IMG_3572 Oh well, I don’t think Eataly was having many problems with business as hordes of people were streaming through the doors and buzzing about the interior as I looked in awe at the cathedral of food that towered before me.  Fresh plums and nectarines lay in front of me as we passed them to the escalator to start on the second floor.  We passed each section that was devoted to a certain part of the Italian culinary landscape like pasta, fish, fried food, bread, cheese, meat and wine.  IMG_3570It looked like all of the produce was kept to the first floor while the second floor was solely devoted to the restaurant portion of the store.  It was like an elite food court where you could go from counter to counter and pay for top notch service and foodstuffs, way too many to enumerate here.IMG_3571  So, I’ll just tell you about what Janice and I tried during our visit.  We settled on the popular pizza and pasta section of the second floor and were immediately seated in front of one of the expansive windows over looking Rush Street.  It was a perfect seat for our date, so hint hint to all you couples out there.10392551_10104334278063879_9013471860543625337_n10425370_10104334278323359_9161369142543183651_n  Our waiter was quite helpful in explaining the menu options while supplying us with complimentary pieces of bread and a plate of olive oil.IMG_3573  This definitely wasn’t Papa Joe’s in terms of the pre-meal munchies, but the bread was delicious.  The edges were crusty and crunchy, and the dough was pliable and had a slightly nutty flavor.  The olive oil was quite smooth on the palate.  I wish they brought out some balsamico as well.  After looking over the menu with lots of deliberation, we settled on sharing the Genovese pizza ($18).

According to the website, at Eataly they only utilize Neapolitan pizza making techniques that one can watch before it comes to the table.  We decided to take in the view instead before as our 12″ pie was delivered to our table. IMG_3574 Looking at it, it was more reminiscent of the pizzas I had in Italy or even New York.  Our waiter said that due to the delicate crust, it was recommended that we use knives and forks to consume the mouth-watering looking pieces.  So we naturally obliged, but we still thought you could eat it with your hands if you don’t feel like putting on airs.  Regardless of others perceptions, we tucked into our meal.  The dough was delicate but with plenty of artisanal flour flavor with a slightly buttery hint.  IMG_3578As for the toppings, there was a generous layer of mozzarella cheese across said crust and topped with a mix of the aforementioned olive oil, tidbits of salty and slightly fatty Parma ham, rich and zesty pine nut pesto, bits of aromatic basil, and diced garlic cloves.  All of these elements came together to make one of the best thin crust pizzas I’ve ever tried.  I normally don’t like crusts, but this pizza’s end pieces were light and chewy which I prefer over their crunch counterparts (this also applies to my cookie affinities).10464354_10104334278473059_7202246310904679489_n  Once we finished that, we moseyed down to the first floor for dessert at, where else?, the Nutella bar. IMG_3580 If you don’t know what Nutella is, it’s the choice snack spread of the gods.  While the British have marmite and Australians have vegemite, once again the Italians outcook them with this sweet, molto chocolately, hazelnut-based topping for bread, toast, and other items.  We could have gone for the gelato or candy counter, but the Nutella bar landed us with their large tubs of the dark chocolate nectar and circular griddles for nutella stuffed crepes.IMG_3581  They had a good amount of Nutella inspired items, but I knew what I wanted:  il bacio di dama ($4.80; literally:  the lady’s kiss).  Fitting for my date.  Janice got the saccottino con Nutella ($3.80).  When we got our individual noms, we couldn’t find a spot to sit down since it was so jammed, but luckily a guy who reminded me of Bill Cosby offered to scoot down so we could sit at the communal tables.  My plate consisted of two hazelnut cookies with a thin layer of Nutella in between. IMG_3584 From the first to last nibble, it was a flavorful pleasure like shifting through the gears on a Murcielago through the hills of Tuscany.  The cookies were soft, fresh, and nutty which balanced out the sweet innards. IMG_3585 As for Janice’s saccottino, it was a pastry made with croissant dough that had an extremely thick schmeer of the hazelnut topping that bordered on the obscene. IMG_3583 I’d recommend they cut down on the Nutella, or you get a drink to go with this dessert.  Perhaps that is all part of their scheme for you to buy more merchandise since half way through it it felt like I was eating a ball of glue coated in chocolate.  It was tasty nevertheless.

In summary, Eataly is a wonderful place for foodie and tourists alike, but it’s not the cheapest place in the world to experience all of Chicago’s culinary potential.  That is not to say though that you will be ripped off since everything is extremely high quality for the price.  I finally visited it, but I don’t know if it will be a regular haunt on my food list in Chicago.

Eataly on Urbanspoon

It’s Nuts How Sweet Life Can Be

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This is the end…my only friend…the end.  The Doors’ words could not be more applicable to this post as it is the final chapter in the Florida food saga on Mastication Monologues.  I’ll be finishing with a sweet flourish in the form of Kilwin’s Chocolates and Ice Cream in Delray Beach, Florida.

My parents and I had taken many constitutionals up and down Delray Beach’s ever popular Atlantic Avenue, but Kilwin’s always seemed to be doing a booming business no matter what time of the day.  In fact, I could liken it almost to a Willy Wonka-esque level of excitement as lines perpetually streamed out the door.IMG_2987  I had never heard of this company before, but I vowed to see what all of the hubbub was.IMG_2986  I wasn’t that hungry after a very messy lunch, so it was a perfect time to check out the mysterious candy and ice cream shop.  As we moved through the clumps of old timers and kids wacked out on sugar, we finally stepped foot in this hallowed institution of addictive foodstuffs. IMG_2976 Everywhere we turned there were decadent delights in every shade of caramel yellow, coco-butter brown, and devilishly dark chocolate.  Kilwin’s provides the public with handmade caramel-coated apples and a few varieties of popcorn. IMG_2975 IMG_2973 I personally came for some of the brown stuff, ze chocolate.  While I was tempted to sample their ice cream, none of the flavors really grabbed me by the taste buds.IMG_2978  What was on display in the cases as we filed past the line for the ice cream left me slipping on my own slobber.  I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.  IMG_2985 IMG_2984 IMG_2983 IMG_2981 IMG_2980 IMG_2979 IMG_2977After looking about, the pecan turtle krispie was my date for the night ($5.50). IMG_2982 She was all gussied up with pecans, dark chocolate drizzles, and a caramel dress over a Rice Krispie body that just wouldn’t quit.  After I paid for it, we sat down on a bench outside to soak up the atmosphere our home away from home for a week had to offer.  As I took a longing glance towards my companion in my hand, I knew that we were meant to be when I subsequently took that first bite. IMG_2988IMG_2994 While you would think that a dessert item like this would be diabetes-inducingly sweet, it was quite balanced.IMG_2995  The crunchy pecans provided a buttery richness to the bittersweet dark chocolate and sticky caramel.  People were watching with a mix of curiosity and possible disgust as I shoveled this over-the-top snack into my food hole.  No regrets whatsoever.  It was a delicious end to a wonderful vacation.

So if you’re looking for a sweet local piece of Delray Beach, Florida that will stick in your mind and possibly your teeth forever, roll on down to Kilwin’s Chocolates and Ice Cream.

Kilwins Chocolates & Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Burgers That D-Fi Hunger

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Boom!  This is my 160th post!  Thanks everyone for your support, and expect me to keep on supplying quality restaurant reviews far into the future.  So, let’s start with a welcome to Mastication Monologues for first time viewers and long-time fans.  Today’s post is part two of my Florida trip.  My previous post features an off-beat pizzeria that can satisfy even the most square food lover (as if there existed such a thing).  As for today, I’ll still be pushing the boundaries of my culinary fortitude as I recount my visit to BurgerFi, a place that reinvents both burgers and desserts.

During our stay in Delray Beach, Florida, we did a bit of walking up and down the street lining the beach, and obviously there were plenty of restaurants to take advantage of the hungry swimmers and tanners.  One place that caught my attention was BurgerFi due to its modern exterior and warmly lit interior.IMG_2841  IMG_2840 IMG_2839We waltzed past their outdoor patio to find an extensive menu that focused mainly on burgers but also offered hot dogs, sides, desserts, beer, wine, and a “secret” menu that boasted some interesting choices like a quinoa burger for all those vegetarians out there. IMG_2837 I, however, went for the Breakfast All Day burger ($5.25) with a Coke de Mexico to drink ($3).  They employed a buzzer system for orders where I just took my drink back to my table to wait for my burger to emerge from the back like a tasty bear emerging from its den after a long winter.  While it was being crafted, I sat at the table enjoying my Mexican Coke that I had never tried before. IMG_2824 What separates the Mexican Coke from good old ‘Murikan Coke is that the former still utilizes regular sugar as a sweetener.  In comparison, the American entry we now imbibe is laden with unhealthy high fructose corn syrup due to our country’s ability to grow a surplus of corn and the overall bottom line for the company in regard to production costs.  What does this mean for me?  Well, a definite taste contrast for one thing.  While the American Coke could be described as a sweet but slightly acidic tasting cola, the Mexican Coke tasted a bit cleaner with a richer flavor.  Eventually, my burger was ready, and it was slightly frightening. IMG_2825 According to the menu, they start with an Angus burger and then pile on American cheese, hickory bacon drizzled with maple syrup, a fried egg, hash browns, onions, and ketchup.  With the bacon strips sticking out like crimson tongues from the mini-monster sitting in front of me, I saddled up my taste buds and rode into the maw of the beast.

Open wide

Open wide

The crunchy pieces of bacon crumbled beneath my full frontal assault, but I nearly lost my senses as the sweet mixed with the smokey and salty pork sent my head spinning…either that or I had a mini-stroke.

Doing work

Doing work

Once I passed that trial, I moved into the actual burger and was greeted with a liberal douse of egg yolk and meat juice.  This was a testament to the quality of the meat that was grilled to perfection, and the egg that added an extra texture dimension to the meal.  As for the hash browns, they were lying in wait at the bottom mixed up with the onions and ketchup to provide body to the burger.  The only downside was the bun that quickly faded away with each bite, and the aforementioned hashbrown mixture contributed to the burger succumbing to Hot Mess Syndrome or H.M.S.

Lookin' pretty rough

Lookin’ pretty rough

If H.M.S. reaches critical mass, i.e. it’s a matter seconds before your burger falls apart in your hand, then you either have to make the decision to stuff it into your mouth or let it tumble to the table.  Before long, I had reached this point, and I opted for the former option instead of letting it fall into the basket.  This lack of burger integrity left me disappointed and covered in the remnants of my meal like a lion who just polished off a zebra.  Once I wiped the scraps away from my hands and mouth, I decided to go for dessert because I was in vacation mode.  I went over the ice cream options, and I plumped for the O.M.C. or Oh My Chocolate concrete ($4).  This treat was absolutely ridiculous in construction and would probably be a tasty way to illustrate the layers of the earth.IMG_2838  They alternated between layers of chocolate custard and then accompanying layers of peanut butter, chocolate chips, sprinkles, and brownie chunks.  It was as decadent as it sounds, but I didn’t feel sick by the end of it.  It was like eating a giant, liquified Reese’s peanut butter cup with occasional crunchy chocolate chips or chewy brownie bites.  Needless to say, I was greatly satisfied by the meal as a whole as I cleaned up the slobber on the table when I finished.

So if you want to try a burger place that provides high quality and creative meals at a reasonable price, then BurgerFi is the eatery for you!
BurgerFi on Urbanspoon

London (Days 4 and 5)- When the Disco Hits Your Eye Like a Steak and Kidney Pie

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As if day three in London couldn’t get any wilder, day four was extra crazy as my friends and I went off to have dinner at an Italian eatery called Bunga Bunga.  It’s located in the Battersea area of London which is just south of the Thames nearby the posh Chelsea neighborhood.  It was a dining experience unlike any other I’ve had in my life, so I hope this installation of Mastication Monologues can adequately describe the madness that is Bunga Bunga.  I’ll also cover my pre-match meal before seeing Tottenham Hotspur play in north London later on in this post.

So, Bunga Bunga.  If you aren’t up on your geo-political happenings or history in general, politicians are known as getting things done, both good and bad.  In Italy, there is a man named Silvio Berlusconi (former prime minister of Italy) who is one part politician, one part business tycoon, and one part Lothario.  That last part is where the restaurant gets its name from because “Bunga Bunga” is a joke that became synonymous with sex parties he threw for his friends and cronies complete with hookers, drugs, and bribes to keep everything hush hush…until recently when all of these allegations came to the surface.

Need I say more?

Need I say more?

With all of this info in the back of my head, I was wondering what sort of mischief Bunga Bunga had in store for its diners.  As soon as we walked in, I didn’t see any saucy vixens, but there was plenty of Italian kitsch adorning every square inch of the walls.IMG_2277  We knew it was a unique place when the servers would randomly break into a choreographed dance routine accompanied by pumping Italo-techo music in the middle of the restaurant (much to their annoyance).  I kind of felt bad for them since the novelty of it wore off after the first time.  Anyway, we started our meal off with three fancy mixed drinks (12 pounds each) that ended up being fantastic and hilarious since they sported names of famous Italians. IMG_2280 I got the  BungaBunga which was served in the head of a winking Berlusconi.  It consisted of gin, Martini Fierro, peppercorns, and grapefruit juice.  It was light and spicy with a bitter aftertaste, kind of like Berlusconi’s eventual fall from grace.  My friend Ravi got the SuperMario Monti (the prime minister of Italy post-Berlusconi) which was basically gin combined with muddled cucumbers which was cleaner and more refreshing than my cocktail.

My failed attempt at winking.

My failed attempt at winking.

As for my friend Bob, he’s a big footy fan, so he went for the Chellsi Balotelli (maverick soccer player who now plays for AC Milan) that had rhubarb vodka, rhubarb puree, cranberry juice, lime juice, and bitters all of which made a sour and strong drink.  Fitting for a man more known for his off the field antics and sulky personality.IMG_2283  For appetizers, we then got a side of cheesy garlic pizzicato (5.95 L) and cheese and spinach bruschetta (6 L).  The former was ok since it was starch combined with cheese, but I wouldn’t get it again since it was a bit too oily for my liking.IMG_2284  As for the latter, I liked the addition of spinach to modify the traditional bruschetta recipe, but once again it was extremely oily that kind of put a damper on the meal.IMG_2282  For the main course, we ordered three different pizzas (range: 9-13 pounds each).  I got the Ruby Loves (11 L); Bob ordered Chef Share-issimo’s Favorito (13 L); and Ravi’s a vegetarian, so he got The Naughty Napolitano (10 L) that had gorgonzola and pears on top.  Bob’s and my pizza were brought out on a long board like some sort of meaty centerpiece for a Roman feast.IMG_2285  My choice consisted  of N’duja soft sausage, salami, and cherry tomatoes.  It was tasty with the savory and salty meats but greasy once again (notice a trend?).  As for Bob’s side that contained rosemary seasoned lamb and chili, I liked it better because the lamb was expertly roasted and proved to be a lighter, less greasy topping compared to the pork products on my side.

So.much.grease.

So.much.grease.

I needed something to cut through the Mediterranean Sea of grease in my mouth, so I got their specialty, Ferrero Rocher gelato, for dessert. IMG_2287 It did the trick as my palate was coated in a molto delicioso wave of semi-dark chocolate ecstasy with interspersed crunchy Ferrero Rocher candy pieces.

Free wine and ice cream.  Winning!

Free wine and ice cream. Veni,vidi, vici!

As the night went on, the place filled up with plenty of party goers as the stage was filled with a variety of performers like a cabaret singer, a magician, and karaoke singers.

Abra-ca-blabra.  Make with the magic.

Abra-ca-blabra. Make with the magic.

NOTE:  If you want to go to the discoteca upstairs, make reservations for that in addition to your table.  We made that mistake and were confined just to the first floor.  Either way, it was a fun time aside from a brief upset stomach compliments of the greasy food.  I recommend Bunga Bunga to anyone if you’re looking for a crazy dining experience, but I don’t think I would make it one of my regular haunts.

Bunga Bunga on Urbanspoon

The following day was a bit rough given that we left Bunga Bunga, got crazy in the Clapham neighborhood, and didn’t make it home until 3 am.  Thankfully, it was laid back as Bob and I just spent most of it watching football or soccer in Amurikan.  Before watching the League Cup, Bob and I got lunch at a cafe nearby White Hart Lane.  While I was contemplating doing the English breakfast that had everything I loved like hash browns and bacon, I decided to go more for a footy classic with a steak and kidney pie with tea on the side.IMG_2300  I was disappointed with the pie and tea.  The crust was ok, and the insides were coated with a peppery white sauce.  However, they were missing a key ingredient:  brown gravy drizzled over the top, and the tea looked anemic.  As for the pea mash and chips on the side, they were passable.  Those were enhanced with the addition of this mysterious “brown sauce” that was in a squeeze bottle on the table that I could only liken to a sweet gravy with a hint of sour aftertaste and a lighter ketchup consistency.  This meal was as exciting at the Spurs vs. Cardiff match we saw, but maybe it just required a change of venue.  The only highlight was seeing Adam Richman of Man vs. Food fame on the field!  At least my last days in London would prove to be much more exciting.

Last K-Days (Part 3/Finale)- The Long and Delicious Road

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So this is my final post relating to my food adventures in Korea on Mastication Monologues.  It  with some snacks in the form of special kimbap. IMG_2131 What makes them so special?  These kimbap actually contained pieces of donkatsu (breaded pork cutlet), fried shrimp, and spicy peppers.  The restaurant we went to was quite popular in Ulsan, and they said they’d make the pepper kimbap extra spicy for me.  Now that’s service!IMG_2130  They were eventually ready to go as we hit the road back to Incheon.  After jamming out to some R. Kelly and Usher, we were hungry enough to stop and try the kimbap at one of the road stops along the way.

Pepper kimbap

Pepper kimbap

I decided to first try the “special” spicy pepper kimbap, and I don’t know what made them so special.  True, it did have small pieces of the fiery Korean peppers inside that are signature side dishes for meat meals, but it wasn’t any spicier than a jalapeno.  However, the donkatsu and fried shrimp kimbap were crazy delicious.  The crunchy, fried pieces of meat were fresh and were an exquisite contrast to the cold but plentiful vegetables.

Fried shrimp kimbap

Fried shrimp kimbap

Fried pork kimbap

Fried pork kimbap

Some of the slices fell apart while I was trying to grab it with my chopsticks unfortunately.

Getting down and dirty with the kimbap.

Getting down and dirty with the kimbap.

We quickly downed them and were back on the road.  After a bit more traveling, we found a larger rest stop that served potatoes with sugar and salt.IMG_2145  It was pretty straight forward as they were just chunks of steamed potatoes with a bottle of salt and a tin of sugar on the side for your own discretion.  We shook and scooped a generous helping of each on the cup and made our way to a table. IMG_2146 I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sugar and salt worked their own culinary yin and yang for me as I greatly savored this starchy treat. IMG_2147  However, my delight soon turned to disaster as I liberally dabbed a potato piece in a white pile of what I thought was sugar, but it was salt…I ran to the nearest water cooler and washed the taste of the Dead Sea out of my mouth.  I finished the last couple nuggets, and we survived the rest of our long sojourn northward.

My last full day in Korea finished with a gift of food from my friend Bora in the form of chocopies and moju.IMG_2171  The former were what their name suggests.  They consisted of two moist pieces of chocolate cake with white cream in the middle, and the whole dessert is covered in dark chocolate.  I’m kind of a chocoholic, so I loved them regardless of Bora saying that they tasted weird to her.  As for the moju, it was a type of rice wine filled with different ingredients like cinnamon, jujube, and ginger.  I could only liken it to a slightly different egg nog with a low alcohol content.  

Beijing (Day 1)- A Bug’s Life

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Things have taken a turn for the amazing for my blog as I’m quickly approaching the 130 post mark, and more and more of people are liking Mastication Monologues as I get the good word about different types of food out to the world.  Thanks to everyone for your support, and keep on viewing, commenting, and liking!  Today will be no different as I continue my recap of my vacation mastication adventures.  This series will be talking about all the wonderful things I tried while staying in Beijing, China.

Now, I’ve had my fair share of Chinese food which ranges from hot pot to some delicious dim sum to even tongue-numbing Sichuan cooking, but mainland China definitely knew how to push my buttons and boundaries as the daring gourmand that I am.  My first food experiences started, oddly, with a trip to McDonalds.  Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Mark, why would you want to go to a worldwide chain that has been slowly eroding local eating customs since 1955?’  Well, dear readers, while I do like my McDonalds back in the USA, I also like to try it in different countries to see what sort of unique options they offer that cater to the tastes of the local population.   At this Beijing branch they had most of the standard burgers, but I was drawn to the beef or chicken rice wrap.  I got one of those along with a taro pie for dessert.  The beef wrap was delicious since the meat was flavorful along with some good, not great, fried rice. IMG_1456IMG_1457IMG_1458 I was more partial to the taro pie.  IMG_1459Think your classic McDonalds apple pie, but beneath the cinnamon-sugar encrusted dough there are sweet, steaming pieces of purple taro inside.  IMG_1461It’s going on the list of foods they need to bring to the US along with the chicken tikka sandwich from Subway shops in England.  Once we figured out where to go, we decided to visit the Donghuamen (东华门) night market .  It was a bit hard to find, but it’s by Wangfujing metro station.  We stopped for a traditional Beijing beverage/food called nai lao.  It’s basically Chinese yogurt you can drink through a straw out of these small porcelain jugs.IMG_1463  They’re everywhere, and you pay about 80 cents to stand there and drink it.  We were in a tiny convenience store that could have doubled as a closet, but the old couple that ran it were very friendly while we were standing there and slurping the sweet yogurt.IMG_1462   After some wanderings, we eventually found the market.IMG_1465

My own Elysian fields

My own Elysian fields

You can’t miss it with it’s red lanterns and seemingly endless array of bizarre foods such as scorpions, snakes, lizards, testicles, starfish, goat penis, and spiders to name a few.IMG_1467IMG_1470  There are also more normal options like dumplings (amazing designs as shown below), corn dogs, and even fried ice cream!IMG_1486IMG_1485  I, however, went for the gusto immediately with a starfish.  IMG_1469It was absolutely terrible.  Imagine taking food, burning it to a crisp, shaping it into a star, and serving it on a stick.  I ate about 3/4ths of it before I gave up.  It was gross through and through.  I moved on to a much more appetizing prospect in the form of a spider.IMG_1471  This was a million times better than the starfish.  I don’t know if it was the savory seasoning he put on it, or the fact there was a bit of meat to the spider after crunching through the exoskeleton.IMG_1472  Either way, I followed it up with a giant centipede which immediately fell into the same category as the starfish.  It was just as bad, but I think the guy over-salted it after frying it. IMG_1475 So it tasted like I was chugging a salt shaker while eating a lot of crunchy legs and gooey body segments.  If you haven’t vomited all over your computer at this point, I don’t eat anything else weird in this post.  I instead got something a bit sweeter that is another Beijing staple:  糖葫芦 or tanghulu.  At first, I was looking at the fruit a bit sideways because it looked like they were all frozen in ice. IMG_1483IMG_1481 I naturally assumed that since my hands were quickly becoming ice blocks compliments of the lovely northern Chinese winter.  I was sorely mistaken though as it turns out the ice is actually a hardened sugar coating that the vendors dip the skewers of apples, kiwi slices, pineapple bits, and grapes in before serving.  I went with a Chinese grape skewer, and it was the opposite of my extreme foods. IMG_1482 It was insanely sweet to the point of it almost hurting my teeth.  I think if I got the apples or the intriguing sesame seed stuffed apples, it would have been better.  I’d recommend trying at least one skewer though since they’re literally everywhere much like the yogurt bottles.  I have to add a slight caveat to Donghuamen Market though.  It seemed like a bit of a tourist trap.  I found there were other more local markets serving the same fare for slightly lower prices.  Just my two cents.   After all of that strenuous eating and walking for miles, we went to a Belgian beer bar called Beer Mania.  It was a cozy little party place that had a vast array of Belgian beers that almost made me think I was back in Brussels kicking it in the Delirium Tremens bar.  The only downside was the live music was ear-splittingly loud.  Thankfully they gave up playing after ten minutes of being ignored, so we could enjoy our beer in peace.  I went with a Guillotine which ended up being a pretty bold pale ale from Belgium.  IMG_1489It had a slightly apple aroma which then transitioned into a sweet introductory taste that packed a bitter aftertaste punch right in the tastebuds.  After that one brew, we were both pretty tired after walking around all day, so we called it a night.  I was quite satisfied with the night since I could knock off so many food challenges by just moving from left to right about 15 feet.  What a country!

Taiwan (Finale)- I Got Too Ducked Up/In the End, Everyone Pies

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Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I am presenting the final chapter in my food travel series where I manage to go out in true foodie style with some very visceral cuisine.  I started the day with a pretty laid back lunch with Christie at the department store right by Taipei Main Station on the MTR.

While we were perusing the food court, I didn’t know where to turn first since everything looked so delicious, but I wanted to get something that I couldn’t get in Korea.  Having the sweet tooth that I do, I was drawn in by a lit up glass case that contained about 20 different kinds of pies at a stall called Rose Pie.IMG_0952  Trying to find legit bakery in Korea is quite hard to do, so I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip through my fingers while abroad.  I wanted to try them all, but I saw one that caught my eye that I thought was some sort of chocolate and peanut butter pie.  After Christie asked the girl behind the counter what kind it was, turns out it was my old nemesis:  red bean.  I shall never escape this crimson fiend!  So after I dodged that pitfall, we got a slice of lemon poundcake pie and plain cheesecake.IMG_0953IMG_0954  The pound cake was interesting because it was made like pie in a tin yet the contents were light and filled with tart lemon notes along with subtle sugar notes.  As for the cheesecake, it was heaven.  The body was softly whipped into a moderately sized slice of cream cheesy goodness.  The only downside from our dessert experience were the forks that were severely undersized to cut through the thick bottom crusts on the slices.  I also got a cup of classic iced boba tea with extra tapioca bubbles since Taiwan is the home to this refreshing beverage.

Blast in a glass

Blast in a glass

I knew I came to the right place as the tea itself was milky yet sweet, and the bubbles were there in force and extra chewy.  I’m all about experiencing different textures, and this drink fit the bill.

Now, we were meeting up for lunch, and we started off with dessert.  Strange, don’t you think?  However, that didn’t stop us from eating in reverse order as Christie took me to another small hole-in-the-wall place that specialized in two Taiwanese specialities:  臭豆腐 or stinky tofu and  蚵仔麵線 or oyster vermicelli.

No frills dining at its finest

No frills dining at its finest.  We ate all the way in the back through the door on the right hand side.

First, there is the stinky tofu.  You don’t have to be a genius to wonder why it’s called “stinky”.  Just walking past restaurants or street vendors who were hawking small deep-fried nuggets of the bean curd made me wonder if I briefly fell into an open cesspool based on the smell.  I got a good whiff as soon as I walked in the door to the main part of the restaurant as its pungent odor attacked my nostrils.  We were led to a smaller back dining room that was enclosed with just some clear heavy-duty plastic sheets that could be found being used as butcher shop doors.  We ordered a plate of deep fried stinky tofu to share and our own bowls of the intestine vermicelli.  IMG_0955When the tofu came out, it didn’t smell as bad as when we first walked in, but with my first mouthful, I could taste the rank, semi-putrid funk of this overly ripened tofu.  However, it went great with the soy sauce.  As for the vermicelli, it was different since there were pieces of pig intestine in the soup instead of oysters which are normally served with this dish.  I found that I preferred the vermicelli over the tofu due to its heartiness and rich, meaty flavor from the intestines.  The thin noodles also were great because they snuggled into the gentle curves of my spoon quite easily which made chopsticks unnecessary, always a good day in my book.  It’s not that I can’t use them, but rather I just think the spoon is much more versatile in terms of eating a wide variety of foods both solid and liquid.  It was great sitting cheek to jowl with the locals and soaking in the atmosphere while the latest Pink single was bumping on the stereo.  Hooray for globalization!  After that filling lunch and a long afternoon of sightseeing, we went to my friend David’s and Christie’s grandparents’ house for one last meal together.

When I got there, it was a simple apartment, but I could already smell what Po-Po (grandma) was cookin’, and it only heightened my anticipation.  We were also graced with Mr. Wu’s presence; hence, we were being treated to Po-Po’s famous chicken soup among many other things.

A feast of the roundtable

A feast of the roundtable (going counterclockwise): cooked whole shrimp, stewed fish with marinade, duck and beef slices, a bowl of tripe and intestines, a plate of fresh bamboo, some mixed greens, and the cucumber segments.

She told me through Mrs. Wu interpreting that the whole chicken was prepared and stewed in the stock for over three days.  I helped myself to a bowl of this homemade blend, and it was hands down the best chicken soup I’ve ever had.  I mixed in some white rice to soak up more of the slightly salty but bursting with flavor broth, and I really liked the sliced potatoes because they were tender enough that you didn’t even need a knife to cut them.  They were like small white icebergs bobbing in a sea of delectable ambrosia.  In addition to a couple bowls of soup, I got my fair share of meat with slices of beef, duck, beef tripe, and pork intestines.  All of them were cooked to excellence, and the tripe was the most interesting just because it looked like it had little spines from the inside of the stomach.  I also had my first experience with eating whole shrimp.  I had to take the shell off with my hands and devour the sweet pink flesh inside.  Then the piece de resistance was sucking out the fat and brains from the shrimp head.  I could see why Mrs. Wu told me this was the best part since it was like taking a shot of butter to go along with your cooked shrimp.  Then there was the stewed red snapper that apparently was the object of desire when Mrs. Wu and Mr. Ni were kids.  They know good food because the flesh was extremely tender, but you had to be careful to de-bone each piece of its needle thin bones.  I managed to do it with chopsticks, so I think I’ve reached Mr. Miagi level of proficiency.  The flesh was only enhanced with the soupy gravy that surrounded the fish since it soaked up all of the extra flavors and spices from the cooked fish to create a hyper-concentrated marinade that could be considered a type of controlled substance it was that addictive.  Now I wasn’t a complete caveman with eating just meat this meal.  I actually enjoyed pickled fresh cucumber pieces that had a sweet, vinaigrette zing as I popped each crunchy segment into my maw.  I also saw a plate of what looked like cubes of potatoes or apples, but it turned out to be pieces of fresh chopped bamboo.  I didn’t know what to expect taste-wise, but I was greeted with a cool, crisp almost neutral taste that leaned ever so slightly towards a red delicious apple flavor.  It was Mr. Wu’s favorite dish, and he showed me that it went well with a dab of mayo.  He showed me the light as the eggy/semi-salty mayo balanced out the lighter pieces of bamboo.  They saw I was still a little hungry, so they brought out the big guns to really see what I could eat.  First, they gave me a dark piece of food that looked like a thick stick bent at a 45 degree angle, and it turned out to be a duck wing.  It had a smoky, bbq taste, but there wasn’t much meat on it.  Then they threw down the gauntlet when they gave me a thin, semi-elongated piece of meat that seemed to be filled with ridges, nooks, and crannies.

What is it?

What is it?

I started gnawing on it, and found this mystery food to be quite bony and filled with cartilage.  My hosts then informed me I was eating a duck’s head, and I should flip it over.  I  followed their instructions, and I was shocked to find my food starting back at me with one black glazed eye.

O hai!

O hai!

That didn’t stop me though from stripping it of the little tender meat still sticking to the cranium along with a piece of tongue.  The best part of the head was actually the eyeball since it was oddly creamy and had a decadent buttery flavor to it.  Once everyone was finished with their extravagant meals.  We had a simple dessert of Chinese and Korean pears and the more bizarre yet awesomely named dragon eyes.  They were similar to lychees, but the insides were clear and jelly-like minus the lychee red juice that stains your fingers when cracking through the outer shell.  The taste I could only liken to some sort of fruity version of a walnut which may have been influenced by the large pit in each small capsule.  With the last slice of pear gone and the final dragon eye cracked, I bid farewell to my lovely hosts.  I will never forget their hospitality as I was brought into their house as a guest and part of the family.  Looking back, my vacation was a hell of a ride, but I never forgot to stop and smell the roses and perhaps eat some if they were stinky or different enough.  Never stop traveling and pushing your own boundaries.

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