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You Have Been Dvowred!

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Well, looks like I’ve surpased the view record once again for my blog today.  Why the sudden spike in popularity?  I have no clue, but I’m not complaining.  The most interesting thing is that it’s led not by interest in the posts detailing me consuming a live octopus, a duck’s head, or even silkworm larva.  Instead, it’s a bacon cheeseburger in Itaewon in Seoul.  Perhaps there is some sort of comfort in simplicity, but that’s fine with me.  Just keep on reading!  So, today on Mastication Monologues, in honor of the Sochi Olympics, I bring you the scrumptious Russian food of Gostiniy Dvor!gost4[1]

I’ve had my fair share of Russian or similar cuisines since I’m of slavic descent which means I have a soft spot in my heart (most likely due to the heavy ingredients) for all things cabbage, sausage, and vodka.  My friend, Bora, knew this as well, so she suggested that we check out the eatery located at the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park metro stop in Seoul.  Come out exit seven, and make a u-turn to the right.  Then make a left on the street you run into, and you’ll see it on your left on the second floor. IMG_1918 I beat Bora there, so I secured us a table on a weekday where there was no one else in the restaurant.  The middle aged Russian lady immediately greeted me with a добрый вечер or “Good evening” which I returned.  I sat down, she then brought me a Russian menu.  However, she was shocked when I asked for an English menu since I looked like one of her comrades from the Motherland. IMG_1919 I could read the Cyrillic on the English menu still, and I saw that they had a lot of Russian classics like блины (pancakes), борщ (beet soup), and пельмени (dumplings).  Bora eventually rushed up the stairs, and we got down to food business.  To drink, we saw that they had Baltika beer which ranges from 1 to 9 with 1 being a light lager and 9 a hearty bitter.  Naturally, we split a 9 which was delicious and not too dark.  Foodwise, we split a bowl of okroshka (a thin sour cream soup), a pork cheese cutlet, and lamb pelmeni.  The okroshka came out first, and it was a wonderful starter for our Russian food fest.452149  It wasn’t chilled but slightly cold.  On top were chives and green onions and lurking below the surface like a couple Soviet subs were small chunks of ham.  The cool cream mixed with the onions and cucumbers provided the perfect compliment to the fatty pieces of meat.  It only the set us up for the glorious pork cutlet that not only was boneless but draped in a golden blanket of cheese which was inlaid with grated potatoes.IMG_1921  It had something fatty (cheese), something meaty (pork), and something starchy (potatoes)=I’d totally RSVP to this dish’s wedding.  However, it was slightly salty which might not settle well on everyone’s palate, so just a warning to those who like blander food.  As for the pelmeni, they were a bit more understated since they were steamed and dressed with a simple sour cream sauce. IMG_1922 The dough’s integrity could have been a bit better since the dumplings would fall apart more often than not when trying to fork them into my gaping maw.  Thankfully the lamb was adequately spiced which in turn amped up the flavor of a plate that possibly could have been quite average.  By the time I popped the last mini-lamb pocket into my mouth, I was stuffed with plenty of good food washed down with a beer that is in another universe compared to South Korean beer.  So quit Stalin and go to Gostiniy Dvor!

Foodie tested, Putin approved

Foodie tested, Putin approved

Troika: Hunger Sleigher

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Hello to everyone out there who has been waiting for a new post and those who are visiting my site for the first time.  Welcome to Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be talking about dining at a restaurant in Seoul’s Itaewon district that was a bit of a spur of the moment decision. The establishment in question is the Russian restaurant Troika located at Seoul, Yongsan-gu Itaewon-dong 119-29 2F 서울특별시 용산구 이태원동 119-29 2층.  Here’s their website:  http://www.troikaseoul.com/

Originally, the night began with my friend Aaron and I planning to try one of the hottest Mexican restaurants in Seoul, Vato’s Tacos.  Unfortunately, I should have heeded my Korean coteacher’s warning that we should have called for reservations at least one day in advance.  I walked up their stone stairs to be greeted by a crush of Koreans waiting to get their hands on some comida mexicana.  There was a two hour wait, so we decided to cut our losses and find somewhere that wouldn’t be overflowing with people.  I will return there to try their tiny tacos, so it’s not adios but hasta la proxima, Vatos Tacos.

We decided to take a back street that a lot of people were coming out of, and we were thrust immediately into a very cosmopolitan street that was lined with restaurants from all corners of the globe from Brazilian to Greek.  I wanted to try one of the Brazilian steak houses, but they were a bit too expensive for our liking.  Instead, Aaron saw a Russian sign that said, “Troika” and asked me about Russian cuisine.  We settled on trying it, and immediately we were worried when we walked under the sign.

A stairway to culinary heaven

A stairway to culinary heaven

Instead of there being a storefront, there was a long and dimly lit flight of stairs with some grafitti adorning the walls with a woman dressed in Russian traditional garb at the top.  I found out later that Aaron thought that we were going to walk into a den of inequity since a lot of Russians in Korea are brought over as prostitutes, but thankfully we were greeted with a small restaurant that was interesting to say the least.

We were immediately seated by our waiter who was dressed like someone straight out of one of Chekov’s or Gogol’s novels, i.e. like a Russian peasant complete with valenki (boots) and a flat cloth cap.  The waitresses were also adorned with the traditional women’s dresses and headdresses.  The interior of the restaurant is also decorated like a dacha or summer cottage that many Russians go to in order to escape the madness of big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Where's the vodka?

Where’s the vodka?

So if you’re into Russian kitsch like Matryoshka dolls and paintings of bears with balalaikas (like me), this is your heaven.  Also, the name of the restaurant, Troika, is a three horse sleigh that is a symbol of Russia.  Before ordering my waiter asked me if I was Russian due my general appearance, and it seemed that the only foreigners who came in were Russian.  The rest of the patrons were Korean.  I ended up choosing the Kartoshka po Derevenski (14,300 W) and a Baltika Russian Porter (8,000 W for a half liter).

When they both came out, I was extremely excited.  First, there was the beer. IMG_1719 As I have mentioned in previous posts like “Hair of the Waygookin“, Korean beer is like drinking carbonated, yellow water, i.e. a beverage devoid of any real flavor.  The Baltika number 6, however, was as dark as night and possessed a flavor that was full-bodied yet understated in true Russian fashion.  Then there was my meal that came out in a large, hot skillet.

Definitely will make you strong like bull and good on plow

Definitely will make you strong like bull and good on plow

It was the Russian version of an American skillet where there was a base of fried and seasoned potato slices which were covered in tiny pieces of fried pork.  On top of this carb and protein mountain resided a fried egg and tiny green onion slices.  It even came with the ubiquitous cup of Russian sour cream on the side.  I just had to take a long look at my meal because it was so non-Korean it hurt, but I got down to business quickly.  The potatoes were expertly fried and not greasy at all.  The pork crumbles were not seasoned but provided a bacon flavor profile to the dish.  As for the egg, it was a bit like gilding the rose because it didn’t bring much to the meal aside from more protein and presentation points.  The same could be said about the green onions.  Then again, I love green onions, so I wasn’t complaining that they were there.

In the end, stumbling upon Troika was a wonderful episode of happenstance.  If you’re looking to try a new type of cuisine or just are looking for simple, old-fashioned meat and potato type fare, give Troika a try.

Food-Lovers of the World, Unite!

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Привет comrades!  Welcome to a special bday edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be talking about a restaurant that I had walked past about a million times, but I vowed to one day dine there.  Thankfully, my 25th birthday provided a perfect excuse to finally try out the Russian Tea Time Restaurant located at 77 East Adams Street  Chicago, IL 60603.  It is located in a very convenient part of the city and is well-connected with subways and buses.

Now I am a sucker for Russian history since it is filled with so many characters like Peter the Great who was 6’8″ and somehow disguised himself as a common laborer while traveling through different Western European countries to learn new skills, like shipbuilding, in order to modernize Russia.  However, I am not here to give a history lesson, so time to move onto the food.  Upon sitting down, we were greeted by our waiter who was quite pushy in regard to ordering appetizers and drinks.  Not only was the decor fitting for a Russian tea room, but the service was up to Soviet standards.  The waiter’s brusque behavior aside, we did enjoy the complimentary dark rye bread and small salad.  The bread was as dark as ebony and possessed a bold, savory flavor thanks to the caraway and spices in the dough.   As for the salad, the greens were fresh, and the dressing was a very sweet vinaigrette that enhanced the lettuce, chard, cabbage, and tomatoes.  Naturally, our waiter was back and quadruple checking to see if we were ready to order, so I got down to business and ordered the Shashlik with chicken.IMG_0953

Now, most people would be intimidated by the sound of something as foreign as Shashlik, but it is quite a simple dish.  All it consists of is large, boneless chunks of chicken skewered and roasted over a fire while being rubbed down with a simple marinade that can vary from chef to chef.  With my dish, the chicken was served on a fluffy white bed of rice pilaf and accompanied with a miniature mound of carrot salad and tomato sauce.  Even though I was a bit bummed out that the chicken was not served to me on the skewers (lawsuits can take the fun out of certain things), I was still blown away at how tasty it was.  The chicken pieces had a homemade flavor to them because each bite had a bit of a charred aftertaste, and my favorite part was the occasional citrus note that would sneak onto my palate like some sort of KGB operative making a dead drop of deliciousness.  Plus, there were grilled onion sprigs on top of the chicken like small, flavorful, wispy clouds hanging about the Ural  mountain peaks. As for the rice pilaf, I was indifferent to it, but it was enhanced by the tomato sauce that was slightly spicy and chock full o’ Uzbek goodness.  When I saw the carrot salad, I wasn’t sure what to expect since it just looked like an orange mini-haystack hanging out next to the gigantic serving of meat and starch on my plate.  However, it was the most interesting part of the meal because although the carrots were soaked in a semi-sweet dressing, they still managed to maintain their crunchiness.  This switch in textures only enhanced my meal, and surprisingly the typical overpowering taste of the carrots was not overwhelming thanks to the sugary dressing.  Once I finished all of this food, I braced myself for an after dinner treat that would only seem normal in a Russian restaurant:  a vodka flight.

A Russian liquid blanket for those cold nights

A Russian liquid blanket for those cold nights

Since we were in a Russian restaurant, I naturally would not waste my money on a mixed drink or a beer, so I was happy to see that Russian Tea Time embraced and promoted probably the most important and celebrated drink in Russian and  Slavic history.  They have three different types of flights which consist of three 1 ounce shots, and they are all themed.  I ordered the Molotov Cocktail flight which contained honey-pepper, Absolut pepper, and horseradish vodka.  My friend got the house flight which had lime, caraway, and black currant vodka.  The waiter also brought some black rye and pickles to chase the vodka and drink in the traditional Russian fashion that includes smelling the bread, offering a toast, and pounding the shot.  Out of my shots, the worst one was the horseradish one because it combined two quite potent flavors in one shot.  The horseradish burned my sinuses and the vodka burned on the way down…definitely a shot reserved for the only the staunchest of revolutionaries.  Thankfully they gave us plenty of bread and pickles to combat the alcohol equivalent of a Kalashnikov round to my mouth.  As for the house flight, I enjoyed the lime vodka the most while the caraway just tasted terrible.  I think that they should keep the caraway just in the bread and not the liquor.  Funny enough at the end of meal, my waiter asked me if I was Russian or Ukrainian, and I told him I was Polish.  Immediately, he went from being a semi-jerk to quite friendly, and after a couple of Polish phrases, he bid us goodnight.  I still don’t think it made up for his service where he was trying to hustle us all night.

So if you’re looking to try some new food or just want to warm up with some tea or vodka, come on down to Russian Tea Time. You’ll see that Russian food has more to offer than just potatoes, fish, and vodka, and it’s actually so filling and tasty that it can make you dance better than the  late, “great” former Russian president Boris Yeltsin (R.I.P.). Na zdorovye!

Russian Tea Time on Urbanspoon

Russian Tea Time on Foodio54

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