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Category Archives: Far East Asian Cuisine

Chinese/Japanese/Korean Cooking

Un-Ba-Le-Vable Flavors

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Welcome one and all to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Things on my blog have been picking up as of late since I’ve survived my first semester teaching in upper academia, so these posts are keeping me sane in the flurry of bureaucracy and final exam writing.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I like writing them!  Today’s post once again brings me to Chicago’s Uptown Little Vietnam neighborhood.  It’s a diverse enclave of Chicago’s ethnic rainbow which boasts a plethora of eateries serving a wide variety of foods from Far East and Southeast Asia.  However, the Vietnamese community is the largest; ergo, I’ve sampled just the tip of the pho iceberg when it comes to fully exploring their culinary representatives.  Ba Le Sandwich shop is one of the best and most popular eateries in the area, and my first visit there was fantastic.

Ba Le’s storefront is at the heart of Little Vietnam at the intersection of Argyle and Broadway and opposite the iconic Tank Noodle where you can get some hot pho soup to chase this newly arrived cold weather away.IMG_4846  Walking into the establishment, past the small Buddhist shrine at the entrance, I was greeted with a sleek and modern interior that boasted a full wall of treats like freshly cut coconuts, Vietnamese head cheese or giò thủ , and a large vareity of chè or sweet pudding/jello treats.  IMG_4217IMG_4212 IMG_4214 IMG_4213On the right hand side of the shop, there were sushi roll packs next to a mini French bakery that was bursting at the seams with macaron mini-mountains.  IMG_4216Delectable remnants of the French colonization of Indochina as they were, I was interested in something more substantial and what Ba Le is known for:  banh mi.  If you want a historical explanation of the sandwich, hit up my Portland food truck adventure here.  Looking over the menu, they also offered side dishes like the famous gỏi cuốn translucent shrimp rolls, noodle salads, fried rice, and egg rolls.  As for the banh mi sandwiches, I went for the Chinese Pork or xá xíu ($4.95), and they do cater to vegetarians with banh mi, btw!   The sandwich was quite big for the price as I took it to one of Ba Le’s window counters you can eat at while watching the locals go about their daily business.  I wasn’t doing much people watching because I was severely distracted and gobsmacked at how delicious this sandwich was.IMG_4218  It was the culinary equivalent of Saul, future St. Paul, being knocked off his horse and converting to Christianity after hearing the voice of God. Oh_Lawd___by_deadprez132001 I don’t know what it was that made this sandwich stand out from the thousands of other sandwiches I tried.  Perhaps it was the extremely fresh French baguette that was just the right ratio of crispness to softness.  IMG_4220Maybe my weakness for mayonnaise combined with the fresh-from-the-garden cilantro, jalapeno peppers, daikon radish, onions, and carrots.  I think the pork helped as well since it was served in the char siu (叉燒) style which originates in China.  It is basically barbecued pork that is roasted while being coated with honey, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and five spice powder.  What you get is a tender cut of pork that is both sweet and slightly salty, a perfect fauna compliment to the unspoiled flora of my unwrapped Garden of Eden.  Long story short, it was ecstasy in my mouth, and it wasn’t very heavy compared to many Western sub sandwiches.

So if you want a heavenly bite of Vietnamese culture for hellishly low prices, check out Ba Le Sandwich Shop in Chicago!
Ba Le Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Woosah at Yeowoosai

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Fried chicken.  Is there any other food that is more quintessentially ‘Murikan?  Actually, I’ll have to stop you right there.  Fried chicken actually has its roots in Scotland where they coated their chicken and made it so much tastier than the boiled and baked versions of the poultry dish down south in England.  They carry on the tradition even today of consuming everything fried including Mars bars and cookies.  There is also evidence that West African cuisine utilized fried chicken for ceremonial meals.  Ergo, when both European immigrants from Scotland and African slaves arrived in the American South, the culinary traditions of both groups became woven into the fabric of the multi-colored patchwork that is our country’s food history.  However, what many people wouldn’t associate with fried chicken is Korea.  In fact, during my time in the Land of the Morning Calm, I sampled some of their fried delights that were an extra-greazy reminder of home in an otherwise kimchi-laden environment.  However, Yeowoosai in Chicago’s Koreatown manages to combine both American and Korean cuisine with a sports bar atmosphere that conveniently has a noraebang (or karaoke) attached.

It’s located in a small strip mall, but little did I know that my tastebuds and my world were about to be rocked into submission.IMG_4333  It was quite empty when we went, but I’m sure it gets quite bumping on the weekend.  IMG_4334We didn’t look at the menu since Janice ordered for me since she gets the same thing every time she goes there:  the 닭디겜 (daktigem or popcorn chicken).  We also got  김치볶음밥 (kimchi bokkeumbap or kimchi fried rice).  However, they do offer plenty of Korean classics like 비빔밥 (bibimbap or a rice bowl with meat and veggies), 김치찌개 (kimchi jjigae or kimchi soup), and  갈비 and 불고기 (galbi or grilled ribs and bulgogi or marinated beef).  The entire time we were waiting, Janice was building up this food, but I didn’t believe how good it really was going to be.  It’s not like I haven’t seen popcorn chicken or fried rice before.  How severely mistaken I was.  First the popcorn chicken came out.  It was literally the size of a wash basin and my potential food baby was lying in it.  It was served with a side of “yellow sauce” and a pickled jalapeno and radish mix.  IMG_4339This was hands-down the best popcorn chicken I’ve ever tried in my life.  From the smooth, buttery, yet light breading to the juicy all white meat nuggets that were quickly filling my stomach, I couldn’t get enough.  Then when I dipped them into the yellow sauce which I figured must be some type of mayonnaise and horseradish concoction with a hint of pepper, a dash of crack, and a soupçon of meth mixed in (seriously though, no drugs were involved in the making of this delicious meal), it finally happened.  I was and still am addicted to Yeowoosai’s popcorn chicken and yellow sauce complete with meat sweats and shakes.  As for the jalapeno and radish salad, I thought it was a refreshing, cool, tangy, and slightly spicy way to cleanse your palate between mouthfuls of chicken.  Then there was the kimchi fried rice.  We just got the original with Spam and eggs.  Why put Spam in a meal when you have a choice not to?  Why not use beef, chicken, or pork?  Well, Spam in Korean cuisine is actually a carry over from the Korean War period where food was scarce, but the American military ate Spam.  So, that’s what the local populace scavenged from the GI army bases to make meals.  While South Korea has made great advances since then, Spam still is seen as a luxury gift.  This often bewilders Americans and other Westerners when Korean shoppers are clamoring to buy Spam giftsets for loved ones at Christmas and Chuseok or Thanksgiving Day.   The American armed forces has also made Spam popular in other places like the Philippines and Hawaii.  Hooray for spreading terrible quasi-meat around the world!  Anyway, the fried rice.  IMG_4340Once again, portion-wise it was gigantic like the popcorn chicken and for a great price.  It was also a quality choice.IMG_4341  Compared to the kimchi fried rice back in the Motherland, it was even better.  It was rich, spicy, but not too spicy.  The pieces of kimchi thrown in provided a texture contrast that popped up now and then between spoonfuls.  I was having multiple moments of being overwhelmed by the large amount of mind-blowingly amazing food in front of me, but eventually my wild ride came to an end as I threw in the towel..er napkin and woosahed .

Long story short, go to Yeowoosai if you want to try a Korean sports bar with plenty of dishes your average ajumma (Korean old woman) would recognize.  Plus, these huge and reasonably priced portions of food will leave both your wallet and stomach stuffed.  Not a bad deal at all.

Yeowoosai on Urbanspoon
 

Happy Is the Stomach That Wears the Crown

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Well, the summer is just rolling by, and the weather is getting as wild as some of the food adventures on which I’m embarking.  Today’s post is another addition to my already extensive Far East collection of restaurant reviews, but it serves up some new dishes that I’ve never tried before.  While I’ve experienced some dim sum that has been out of this world, I’m always up for trying novel places like Triple Crown in Chicago’s Old Chinatown.

I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about this location from my friends who are of Chinese/Taiwanese ancestry since some have said that they’ve sold out to Western tastes while others have conjectured that they still keep it old school with some of their menu selections.  Adventure time!  I went there with my girlfriend since we had a craving for dim sum, and luckily, they indulged us in the afternoon when other diners only serve the Chinese version of tapas at night. IMG_3682 After scaling the stairs, we were greeted with a spacious dining hall that was sparsely populated, but I’m sure come dinner time it would be packed.IMG_3681  It was tastefully decorated but unusually warm as if the air conditioning didn’t work, clearly an air conditioning repair is in order.  It didn’t help they gave us hot tea to drink upon sitting down.  While living in Korea, I learned the best method for allegedly cooling down is to consume hot food and drinks in order to make it not seem as sweltering outside…it doesn’t work for me, but who knows?  So we looked over the dim sum menu, and it was quite minuscule compared to the selection at other competitors.  Triple Crown’s normal entree menu is quite encyclopedic though ranging from fried rice and orange chicken to more old-school dishes like tripe and duck tongues.  We saved those options for another day though.  After picking a smattering of dim sum plates, we waited for about 20 minutes for the first wave to emerge.   We were greeted by three steamed char siu barbecue pork buns and three scallion and shrimp cakes.  I started with the bbq pork buns since I love pork and savory sauces.IMG_3683  The chewy, white exterior gave way to a blood red interior that immediately gave me a minor case of the meat sweats.  The pork was tender and slathered in a semi-sweet yet tangy sauce. IMG_3685 I still think they could have been better with a meat to bread ratio that leaned toward the former rather than the latter, but I did enjoy them from the first to the last gooey bite.  As for the shrimp and scallion cakes, they were much more interesting since the delicate, translucent covering gave way to a plethora of verdant onions that provided a real pep to the chunks of plain shrimp. IMG_3684IMG_3686 I like my shrimp, but the scallions were the only saving grace of this dim sum choice since the shellfish weren’t even seasoned.  While we were gobbling down the first wave, the second installment invaded our table with a trio of fried sesame balls and a quartet of siu mai/shumai dumplings.  I’ll start with the latter first since they have an interesting background.  While many scholars contend that these uniquely shaped dumplings originated in Inner Mongolia, they quickly became associated with Cantonese cuisine in the West due to this population’s mass diaspora throughout Europe and America.  In Chinese, “shumai” literally means “to buy and sell”, and while we did buy them, I wasn’t completely sold on them. IMG_3688 The outer dough was chartreuse, but didn’t bring much to the table (pun intended) in terms of flavor.  On the other hand, the interior was adequately prepared.  It seemed to be a mix of pork seasoned with soy sauce and ginger that reminded me of a Swedish meatball sans sauce.  Nothing really mind blowing though even with the generous helping of orange fish roe atop the meat like an ill-fitting ginger toupee.  Our meal took a turn for the better with the fried sesame buns.  IMG_3687While they did contain a hefty helping of one of my few bugbears in Far Eastern cooking, sweet red bean paste, I loved the copious amounts of savory sesame seeds that jived all meal long with the crunch exterior encasing a chewy rice cake interior.  I hated eating plain rice cake or “tteok” in Korea, but the Chinese managed to find a way to make it much more palatable.  I’d highly recommend these if you’re looking for a dim sum plate that has great textural and taste variety.  As we were working on this penultimate round of dishes, the piece de resistance emerged:  the chicken feet.  While they’re more commonly known as “phoenix talons” in Chinese, these chicken feet are another one of my must-have’s when going out for dim sum.  While most people, including my girlfriend, are disgusted at the sight of me chomping on the chickens’ tootsies, they’re truly missing out a delicious delicacy. IMG_3689 The feet are boiled, deep fried, and then seasoned with a black bean sauce that is sweet with a hint of spice.

Getting cold feet.  Hiyo!

Getting cold feet. Hiyo!

I’m not going to say that it’s for everyone since there are a lot of bones and cartilage to deal with and not a ton of meat, but what meat there is, it’s mind blowingly tender along with the slightly crispy skin.  IMG_3762It’s a mind over matter sort of choice, but you’d be crazy not to try it.

By the end of the meal, we were stuffed and paid only 20 bucks total for two people for a ton of good food.  While I’ve been spoiled by dim sum restaurants overseas or other local establishments with bigger menus, I’d still recommend Triple Crown if you’re looking for a new Chinatown eatery or even want to try dim sum for the first time.

Triple Crown Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Heavenly Wings

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Hello and welcome to another wonderful edition of Mastication Monologues!  After a very long weekend of wild adventures with Janice, I bring you another series of food reviews in Chicago.  Today’s post involves Crisp, a Korean fried chicken establishment that made me think of my time in the Land of the Morning Calm.

While Janice and I were trying to figure out where to grab lunch, we settled on Crisp since her friend gave it rave reviews.  I met him once, and he seemed like a trustworthy guy aside from his crazy moves he was busting out on the dance floor.  I heard that it was Korean fried chicken, and I realized that this was the second time I’d be getting fried chicken with Janice (the first was a sweet memory)  I crossed my fingers that it would be just as scrumptious.  My hopes were completely fulfilled and then some. IMG_3235 Upon walking in, we had to shimmy our way past the overflowing tables and dining counters that were filled to the gills just to put in our order.IMG_3227  While looking at the menu, I could see some of the Korean influences like the focus on fried chicken, bibimbap (or the more Americanized moniker “Buddha bowls”), and different types of kimchi or pickled vegetables.  However, they also have burritos, sandwiches, and sides.  Now, you might be wondering, ‘Fried chicken is pure Amurika.  What makes Korean fried chicken different from the Dirty South classic?’  Well, the contrast lies in the sauce they slather on the crunchy chicken pieces.  They have four different flavors you can slap on bone in/bone out wings and whole/half chickens.  I always love my chicken wings, so I went with the ten wing option.  The cashier chuckled, gave me a look, and asked me if it was my first time there.  I replied in the affirmative, and he said that I wouldn’t be able to finish ten wings since they’re huge.  So, I took his word for it and dropped down to five wings ($8.95), three Seoul Sassy sauce and two Crisp BBQ sauce.  I naturally had to try their kimchi, so I didn’t get the typical cabbage but rather the 총각 (chonggak, literally “bachelor” since it was considered a kimchi so simple even single men could make for themselves) radish kimchi ($3.95).  While waiting I saw a lot of different Korean drinks like Milkis stacked up above the bibimbap display or the Bacchus-D energy drink box on our table. IMG_3225 It’s a popular on-the-go beverage for the 빨리 빨리 (bbali bbali; fast fast) Korean lifestyle, and it tastes like drinking liquid Sweet Tarts.IMG_3229  They called my name, and I snapped out of my memories to pick up my grub.  I’m so glad the cashier was honest with me about the size of the wings because these were gargantuan compared to their Buffalo Wild Wing or Hooter counterparts.IMG_3231  I think Janice put it best that they chopped them off pterodactyls.  If that’s what they did, the prices certainly didn’t reflect the costly nature of the undertaking.

Slightly intimidated

Slightly intimidated

 It was a lot of food for a reasonable price.  I started with the Seoul Sassy sauce, and it definitely lived up to its name.  It was a sophisticated blend of garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and a bit of molasses for a flavor profile that left my mouth watering.  The chicken itself was great with plenty of white meat, and the skin was incredible.  It wasn’t greasy or soggy and was a perfect representative of the restaurant’s name.  As for the Crisp BBQ sauce, it reflected a meeting of East and West with the smokiness of a North Carolina pig roast, and the spice of Korean gochujang that let you know you were consuming something spicy but not in a mouth-numbing manner.  I couldn’t pick between the two sauces, but there was a game-changer that was on every table:  Allison’s atomic sauce.  Like the A-bomb, it blew me away. IMG_3233 It was a mild, chipotle ranch/mayo mixture that had a cooling effect on the wings yet provided a very subtle peppery zing with each bite.IMG_3234  By my third wing, I was slathering this weapon of mass consumption over every square inch of my chicken.  After finishing my five wings, I had two of Janice’s and still could have eaten more.  Alas, I just focused on my kimchi.IMG_3232  It was cubed and soaking in chili water, and it was just as good as back in Korea.  The radish cubes were crispy, slightly sour, and spicy.  I couldn’t even finish the tub because it was so much for so little money.  By the end, I was ready to literally roll out of there a happy diner.

So if you want to try a Korean twist on an American classic with American sized portions and reasonable prices, check out Crisp in Chicago.  빨리 빨리!!

Crisp on Urbanspoon

The Heart and Seoul of Chicago

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안녕하세요! or Hello! to everyone out there on the interwebz!  Welcome to another wonderful edition of Mastication Monologues where I bring you the best, most delicious, and/or intriguing eats I find as I walk down this path called life.  Today’s edition relates to the greeting in the funny looking writing at the beginning of the post.  If you’re not familiar with Asian scripts, I wrote in the Korean writing system known as Hangul.  It’s a relatively new writing system compared to the Roman alphabet or Arabic, but it is ingenious in its design compliments of King Sejong who invented said alphabet back in 1443.  Each symbol relates to how the different components of the human mouth are positioned to make each sound.  If I had to choose a sound to accurately describe how I felt after eating at Korean fusion BBQ joint Del Seoul in Chicago, I’d probably say ㅁㅁㅁㅁㅁㅁㅁㅁ(mmmmmmmmm).  

I met up with my friend, Heidi, yesterday since we recently came back from a year in Korea together.  While we were both happy to be back in the good old USA, it felt only fitting that we caught up on things over the food that we tried throughout our adventures in the Land of the Morning Calm.  I was a bit surprised to find it in the neighborhood by DePaul and not in Koreatown, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying my dining experience from beginning to end.IMG_3090  Upon walking in, I was surprised to find the place was kind of like a Far East Asian Chipotle where you have to order your food and then sit down at a table with a number.IMG_3097  Looking over the menu, I could see that it wasn’t quite the Korean cornucopia I was expecting.  While they did have some classics I’ve enjoyed like 비빔밥 (bibimbap; mixed vegetables and rice bowl), 김치볶음밥 (kimchibokkeumbap; fried rice with kimchi), and the ubiquitous 김치 (kimchi; pickled cabbage), they were missing other common dishes like 떡볶이 (tteokbokki; rice cakes in spicy sauce) and 잡채 (chapchae; translucent fried noodles).  Instead, they were replaced with Korean fusion treats like tacos, banh mi, and kimchi poutine.  I wanted to try a bit of everything, so I got the following:  a 갈비 (galbi; bbq beef ribs) taco ($2.95), a spicy bbq pork banh mi ($6.25), and a small cup of kimchi ($1.50) since I love my pickled vegetables.  

As we sat down, I had trouble finding an open table since the place was hopping with patrons greedily devouring their dishes.  The owners also provide complimentary soy sauce and spicy Sriracha sauce to jazz up your selections which wouldn’t normally happen in Korea.  Our tacos came out first, and they were a lot smaller than I was anticipating. IMG_3092I would liken it to the side of a large English muffin, but what it lacked in size it made up with bold flavors.  Not only was the beef expertly grilled and seasoned, but the cilantro-onion relish combined with the secret slaw brought in a slightly herbal yet semi-spicy punch to this south of the DMZ border fusion dish.  I would definitely recommend getting the tacos.  Next came the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich with Korean ingredients. IMG_3095 I loved the jalapeno pepper slices and the juicy pork pieces that were simmered in a Korean gochujang (hot pepper sauce) marinade.  What I didn’t love were the pickled daikon radish strands and the extremely fresh bread used to bring all of the great ingredients together.  The radish took a lot away from the other elements with its overpowering pickled flavor which I didn’t appreciate.  As for the bread, you might think I’m crazy for ragging on the crunchy yet chewy loaves used to make scrumptious banh mi, but in this case, I felt it was too much bread for too little ingredients.IMG_3096  While I do love carbo loading when I’m not going to run a marathon, I felt this was a case of going buck wild with the baguette to the loss of the other ingredients.  I tried a bit of Heidi’s 불고기 (bulgogi; bbq beef) sandwich, and it was the same deal.  Too much dough stopping the other ingredients’ flow.  These sandwiches weren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination and a better value for the price compared to the tacos, but the tacos were more finger-licking good.  Then there was the kimchi.  Kimchi flows through the blood of every Korean, and it is the be all end all of foods for them…and me and my friend, Meropi.  There is even a special time of the year where Koreans gather as a family to prepare the kimchi for fermentation for the winter.  That’s how highly Korean regard this fiber-tastic but not vegetarian friendly delicacy.  While there are many different types of kimchi, the most popular is the spicy kimchi that consists of pickled cabbage and chili sauce.  I shocked my Korean coteachers every lunchtime with how much of the fermented vegetables I’d pile on my food tray, but it made up for a lot of the other options that had tentacles sticking out of it.  After so many days of eating the cabbage, I really came to love it, so I wanted to see if Del Seoul’s could match up to the motherland’s special blend of spices.  From the first delicious chopstickful, I was taken back to the land where I was complimented on my chopstick skills and scolded for mixing other foodstuffs with my bland white rice.

Kimchi just chillin in the corner

Kimchi just chillin in the corner

  Long story short, it was the real deal, and I’m sure that I will always remember my adventures in the East when I savor this much maligned food in the West.

Overall, I’d recommend Del Seoul to anyone who’s a little wary of jumping tastebuds-first into Korean cuisine or those who want to experience certain Korean classics reinvented through fusion food.  The prices aren’t overwhelming, and the environment is simple and welcoming.

Del Seoul on Urbanspoon

 

My Burger From Tokio

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Whew!  Finally done with all of my Florida food posts.  If you haven’t seen any of them, just scroll further down the page to get caught up in the narrative that is my life as a gourmand.  Today’s entry on Mastication Monologues checks off another foodie milestone for me.  It’s not something as crazy as when I ate a live octopus or scorpions, but it is an iconic fusion meal that has popped up on menus in areas of the USA with significant Asian populations like Chicagoland in this case.  My adventure begins with getting in touch with my good friend Carolyn who suggested Tokio Pub, and after looking over the menu online, I knew it was for me when I saw the dish in question.

So we met up in Schaumburg and were quickly seated at the height of dinner which I appreciated.

Our waitress was a laugh and a half with her saucy personality which contributed to our dining experience.  We ordered drinks first, and I got a pint of Fixed Gear Ale ($6).  It was an slightly murky but amber colored brew that had a definite bite with woody notes and a hoppy finish.  As for the food, the menu goes from various sushi offerings to ramen soups to the mysterious sounding hot rock dishes.  That final option left me somewhat intrigued, but Carolyn explained that you can cook your own food at your table utilizing piping hot pieces of stone.  While this interactive dining experience was tempting, I saw another limited per diem item:  the ramen burger.  I’ve been seeing this novelty dish shoot to the top of every foodie’s list, and I’ve even seen recipes in magazines as to how to properly prepare this fusion item.  So after a bit of anticipation, I finally was face to face with destiny. IMG_3026 IMG_3027 As I picked it up, I felt the golden, slippery layers between my fingers and quickly took my first bite.  It was a texture fiesta as I crunched through the outer noodles to the more giving secondary ramen layer which was quickly overtaken by a juicy beef patty, average greens, and a soy molasses that made it a divine treat to eat the meat.  IMG_3030Within five minutes, I had destroyed this piece of art and quickly turned my sights on the cucumber salad.  It was an understated compliment to the savory burger.  Not only were the cucumbers fresh and crispy, but the brine had a semi-sweet tang that cut through the greasy noodle taste.  Although the burger was slightly hefty, I knew I had to try their fried coconut bao (dumpling in Mandarin) dessert ($5).  The presentation alone made me quite fidgety while taking the picture.IMG_3031  It was like my own super-fattening version of Treasure Island.  The golden-brown dumpling treasure chest opened up to spill out coconut cream onto the caramel sand while the scoop of slowly melting ice cream was like a majestic mountain eroding to once again return to the sea, i.e. my stomach. IMG_3032 It was a fitting end to a rich dinner.

So if you’re looking for Asian fusion food with great service and moderately expensive prices in Schaumburg, check out Tokio Pub.

Tokio Pub on Urbanspoon

Impressive Intragalactic Intercourse

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Welcome one and all to another fantastic chapter in the food epic that is Mastication Monologues!  Today’s entry is going to be a short one, but that doesn’t mean a lack of quality.  If you haven’t been reading, I’ve been reviewing various restaurants I’ve visited throughout my vacation to Delray Beach, Florida.  So far I’ve come mouth to burger, dog, and even mushroom.  However, this post is a definite shift as I move away from foods that might be considered classic Americana to more exotic meals.  So lets start with Lemongrass Asian Bistro, an upper echelon Asian eatery which has branches in other Atlantic coast Floridian cities.

After a filling lunch at Doc’s All American and an afternoon of scuba training, I wanted to have a light dinner that wouldn’t leave me bloated like a beached whale.  So, I decided that sushi would be something that would be rich, filling, yet light.  Lemongrass fit the bill.  The establishment has both indoor and outdoor seating, but I went for the latter since the weather, per usual, was quite pleasant. IMG_2873 I also love outdoor seating because it gives one ample opportunity for people watching as they pass by on the avenue.  While I was enjoying the sights and sounds of Delray Beach, I wasn’t too satisfied with the service.  I had to wait ten minutes for someone to welcome me and ask if I wanted anything to drink.  I know it is hard for the servers and kitchen staff when a restaurant is slammed (“filled to capacity” in customer speak), but Lemongrass at that time would hardly fall into that category.  Eventually I got a menu, and it seemed that they had specialties from mainly Japan with an extensive sushi menu, Thailand with a few satays and curries, and Vietnam with a plethora of stir fried noodle dishes.IMG_2868  However, I was surprised that their drink menu didn’t even offer plain sake given the litany of sushi meals they offer.  After a long time of contemplating between choosing the Vietnamese grilled pork and sushi, I got the Sex on the Moon sushi roll ($13) simply based on the name and spicy pepper next to the moniker.  After another long period of anticipation, my food eventually came out, and it was well worth the wait.  The presentation was interesting to say the least, but I personally think they went a bit overboard with the tempura bits sprinkled about the sushi roll. IMG_3945 It made it look like my food was swimming in sawdust, tasty, scallion-laced sawdust nevertheless. IMG_2869 I’m not quite certain why they call it “Sex on the Moon”, but I was over the moon after tasting it.  On the outside, there was a light sprinkling of the aforementioned tempura flakes, a moderately thick slab of raw tuna, and masago (Capelin fish roe).  The real magic of the meal resided within the snowy white nest of sticky rice where I was quickly introduced to the cordial and spicy family of fried shrimp, asparagus, avocado, eel, and pepper seeds.IMG_2870  While I naturally tasted the buttery shrimp and fiery pepper seeds, the other elements were not as individually impressive.  This meal was more of a team effort as the scallions enhanced the smooth avocado, and the asparagus provided a much needed crunch to balance the more delicate seafood ingredients like the fish eggs.  I spiced it up even further with the hefty dollop of wasabi they provided on the side, and that took it to another flavor galaxy.  By the end of Sex on the Moon, I was proverbially lighting up a smoke and lying back on my pillow with a sigh of satisfaction as I looked up to the stars in the Florida sky.

So if you’re willing to put up with slower than average service to experience some out of this world sushi, moonwalk on over the Lemongrass Asian Bistro.
Lemongrass Asian Bistro on Urbanspoon

MSG’s Alright With Me

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Hey everybody, and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Many great events have been happening as of late including my blog now being featured on the acclaimed food blogging website TheBesty.  You can find the article here, and they will be featuring some of my restaurants in a few upcoming YouTube videos.  So stay tuned!  Self promotion aside, today I’d like to tell you all about Oriental Taste, a simple but yummy eatery located at 106 63rd St, Willowbrook, IL 60527  that has quickly become my family’s go-to Chinese restaurant when we crave some Asian cuisine.

While this place may not be as famous as some of the other Chinese establishments I’ve visited both in the States and abroad in China and Taiwan, it still manages to do serve some quality Cantonese-inspired American Chinese food at a great price.  It’s quite simply furnished both inside and outside,ls but this is a case of not judging a book by its cover as their menu will both intrigue and excite you.ls (1)  They have everything from classic egg rolls and potstickers to many different varieties of fried rice and noodles dishes.  If you’re feeling adventurous, they also have Cantonese specialties that are closer to some of the dishes I saw while vacationing in Hong Kong.  In all the years my family has been going there, it seems like we’re always the only non-Asian people who actually sit down in the restaurant to eat, but overall, it seems their carry-out business is the real money maker.  We’ve never tried their carry-out services, so I can’t offer my own opinion on the overall efficiency of this part of the business.  Anyway, for this dinner, I decided to get a plate of bbq pork chow mein, and my mom ordered the ever-popular kung pao chicken.  After a good while of looking at the various duck carcasses and pieces of meat in the display case next to the register, our entrees came out with a side of white rice and a full pot of tea.  I focused mainly on my wonderfully arranged plate that was overflowing with noodles. IMG_2752 I took three forkfuls of the noodle nest along with the morsels nestled in its golden tangles.  Each mouthful was a who’s who of textures and flavors as the noodles were prepared in the crispy, Hong Kong style, and the barbecued pork strips were succulent but not greasy, thankfully.  I’m also partial to bean sprouts, so this dish was perfect for me.  These translucent, crispy tubes were paired perfectly with the crunchy green onions that popped up every so often to pep up the meal.  IMG_2753The kung pao chicken was quite scrumptious as the juicy pieces of chicken were pure white meat, and the soy based sauce covering every inch of the plate provided a spicy zing to each mouthful.  I liked the peanuts that were added to supply a crunchtacular counterpoint to the chewier chicken and firm onion and pepper elements of the meal.

So if you’re looking for quality American Chinese fare without the bells and whistles of other chains or upscale restaurants, check out Oriental Taste in Willowbrook, IL.  It’s a hidden gem that won’t be under wraps for long.

 
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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.  

Last K-Days (Part 2)- Life’s a Beach

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My second day in Ulsan wasn’t as action packed as the first day, but I did manage to have some McDonalds and pay a visit to neighboring Gyeongju.  The only real food highlight of the day was when I managed to try a new type of 호떡 or hotteok which is like a sweet pancake.  Normally, they are fried and filled with a sticky, sweet syrup, but the variant in Ulsan I found to be more pleasant.IMG_2088  First, instead of being soaked in cooking oil, they were baked in a small oven.  Second, inside the hotteok there were more sesame seeds and honey instead of syrup which led to a more interesting and varied taste. IMG_2089 Plus, it wasn’t as messy as the original hotteok I tried in Myeongdong in Seoul.  Lord knows I don’t like to have half of my food still on my hands when I finish eating.  I made it to the seaside town of Busan.  I had visited the city before where I tried some deadly fish soup and had a “sexual” encounter in the Jagalchi fish market, but this time we were going to explore the art village on the other side of the harbor.

The first food I tried in Busan when we got to the art village was this Dalgona cookie that smelled pretty good from far away.  However, this was no ordinary snack.  I saw people fiddling about with their cookies on metal plates for some reason, so I learned hat you can cut out the shape imprinted in the cookie with a needle as a type of challenge.  If you cut it out perfectly without cracking the shape, then you get a free one.  Dalgona cookies seemed to be a simple treat to make since it was only made of sugar and baking soda that was heated to a high temperature before being spread on a small griddle where it cooled.

IMG_2099 You then got your choice of shape you could press into it.  I decided to do a gingerbread man shape since it looked pretty easy…or so I thought.  I took my seat next to the other kids at the table and proceeded to get to work. IMG_2166 It was harder than it looked because the cookie was wafer thin yet extremely brittle which required the steady hands of a brain surgeon with the needle.  I was making great progress as I cracked parts off around the upper torso, but a random fault line erupted as I rounded the crotch.  All my hard work was for naught, and my Korean audience was disappointed after watching my splendid progress.  I vowed to come back and try it again. IMG_2163 Even though the cookie was extremely sweet and crunchy, there was a burnt, bitter aftertaste that may have been caused by either the singed sugar or my defeat.

 I highly recommend a trip to the art village as it’s very quirky but tasteful if you like random artwork integrated into a mountainside community.  On the way back to the car, I got another Dalgona cookie with a fish this time in honor of the seafood hub that is Busan.  This time around, I cut the shape out with four quick jabs with the needle.  I was satisfied with overcoming the challenge.IMG_2159  However, these snacks were a mere prelude to the food extravaganza that would soon follow in the city as I went to Gukje Market.

When we got there, it seemed like the entire world was out and crowded around these food carts.  I would come back to these carts later, but first we had to try some of Busan’s famous mini kimbap (think California sushi rolls with different fillings).  We went to a food tent that specialized in these mini kimbap, and there was plenty of variety in terms of ingredients we could choose. IMG_2101 You ordered by placing plastic kimbap on each flavor tag, and then the woman behind the counter would whip them up in a jiffy. IMG_2102IMG_2103 I was starving at that point, so we ordered almost all of the flavors.   I saved myself for the parade of little rolls that made their way onto our plate which included the following flavors:  spicy pepper, flying fish eggs, anchovy, spicy tuna, spicy pork, spicy beef, kimchi, and dried squid.IMG_2104IMG_2107  I loved nearly all of them, but the spicy pork and spicy beef were the most disappointing.  It was more like eating liquified, overly salty mystery meat puree in a sushi roll.  Not my kind of dining experience.  I really enjoyed the spicy pepper kimbap since they were spicy but filled with lots of pepper flavor.  The flying fish egg kimbap were surprisingly good since the eggs brought a different texture to the rolls as I enjoyed popping the little orbs between my teeth.  I eventually slowed down, but the food crawl didn’t end there.  We then moved down the main pedestrian area of Gukje Market to get 납작만두 or napjak mandu which are essentially flat dumplings or potstickers that came with a side of 오징어무침 or ojingeo muchim which is strips of squid and vegetables in a chili sauce.IMG_3616  It was one of the many food carts that had a mob of people around it jostling for position to taste some of the wonderfully grilled dumplings, and I quickly made a hole in the crowd for us to stand.  It seemed like people would put the vibrant red strips of squid and vegetables in the dumplings and then fold them like tacos to eat with chopsticks.    Overall, I would have enjoyed them more if I wasn’t so full of kimbap, but they were delicious.  The dumplings were crispy around the edges, and the dough had a buttery taste that gave way to seasoned vegetables inside.IMG_2110  Combined with the semi-sweet and spicy squid and vegetables melange, my palate was fully satisfied.  As we made our way back to where we entered, I stopped for a quick drink at the convenience store.  I saw a drink that was called “pine bud drink”, so I got it. IMG_2108 It apparently was made from pine tree needles, and the taste isn’t good.  I took a big swig and was intrigued by the taste. IMG_2158 It kind of tasted like Gatorade at first, but then I was blasted with a shot of a flavor I could only describe as pine tree mixed with menthol.  Strangely, I enjoyed it for some reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  Then again I like green tea flavored products while my other foreign friends can’t stand it.  Try it at your own risk.  Finally, there was the 씨앗호떡 or ssiat hotteok or seed hotteok.  We could only get it at the severely crowded entrance where we were quickly ushered in line by a guy working for the food cart.IMG_2116

Apparently this is the original food cart that started serving the hotteok.

Apparently this is the original food cart that started serving the hotteok.

It snaked around as more eaters rushed around us, and we eventually reached the front of the cart where the entire order and buying process took maybe 30 seconds tops.

The batter

The batter

Pre and post fry

Pre and post fry

IMG_2115

I’m nuts for it!

These hotteoks were fried like the ones in Seoul, but they were stuffed with honey, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.  It was the best hotteok out of the ones I have tried.  Not only was the dough chewy and rich, but the seeds made it taste like peanut butter when combined with the honey.  Plus, I loved the crunchiness that served as a counterpoint to a mostly soft dessert.

After getting back from Busan around 11pm, we tried some gwamegi or dried herring which is normally served with lots of side dishes to cut through the salty flavor, but we only really had chili sauce, garlic cloves, and some wonderfully strong and berry flavored Chinese baiju liquor.IMG_2123IMG_2122  It was ok, but I did enjoy the smoky elements of the snack and the fruity aftertaste of the baiju which reminded me of my time in Beijing.  We soon headed out for a late night snack of mayak jjimdak or drug chicken soup.IMG_2126  Now don’t order this dish expecting to find some magic herbs and spices given the name.  The “drug” element comes from the idea that the soup is so incredibly tasty that it’s addictive like a drug.IMG_2127  I would have to agree with them as the fiery red broth was thicker than a normal Korean jjigae or soup, and there were plenty of pieces of juicy chicken throughout the meal.  I would have to check into rehab if there was a drug chicken soup spot by my house back home.  With that spicy and “illicit” meal behind us, my third day in Ulsan drew to a close.

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