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Hair of the Waygookin

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  However, this is not any regular edition of my wonderful food blog, but rather it is my 60th post.  I never honestly thought I would stick with writing a food blog for this long, but when I realized that people from all over the world enjoy my food adventures, I kept the reviews and ideas flowing.  So if you have any suggestions for new restaurants and/or new foods to try, please send them my way.  I appreciate all of the views my blog has gotten so far, thanks! Anyway,  I decided to do something a bit different for my 60th post where I would comment on the different types of drinks I have tried while living in Korea.  First, I’ll go for the lifeblood of Korean nightlife:  soju.

King of Korea

King of Korea

Soju is an interesting character in comparison to all of the other types of  drinks I have tried.  I had briefly tasted it stateside when I went to a Korean restaurant/noraebang for karaoke, but I didn’t really remember it making much of an impact on my palate.  However, upon arriving in Korea, I was in the middle of many toasts with co-workers, new friends I made through my orientation program, and old friends who were already living in Korea.  Soju is probably consumed more than water here, and it’s definitely cheaper than water in 7-Elevens.  Plus, in orientation we were informed that it is the number one liquor in the world in terms of consumption even above Smirnoff vodka.  Then again, after watching drunk Korean businessmen stumble down the street on Tuesday nights, I’m not surprised.  As for the actual taste, it kind of is like Korea’s answer to vodka.  It’s clear, nearly scentless, and can be used with many different mixers.  However, there is a somewhat off-putting, slightly sweet aftertaste if you take it in shot form.  A Korean friend told me the taste is due to the distilling process since soju is no longer derived directly from rice but rather through using artificial sugars and potatoes or tapioca roots.

The fancy bottle hides a nasty surprise inside

The fancy bottle hides a nasty surprise inside

I even tried a different soju that was distilled with turmeric,  pears, and ginger to name a few ingredients.  It didn’t go down so well since it tasted like vodka mixed with an herbal tea.  So that’s a little blurb for you liquor-only drinkers.  Next is for wine afficionados:  bokbunja and flower wine.

Bokbunja is a traditional Korean blackberry wine that was exquisite.IMG_0023  It tasted similar to a Western sweet red variety or for those who are not well versed in wine types, it had a very high sugar content.  Ergo, it seemed closer in taste to fruit juice in comparison to a more intense and full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon.  Another fun fact about this delicious Korean wine is that supposedly it promotes mens’ sexual health and drive.  Personally, I didn’t feel any sort of heightening of my sexual spidey senses or anything like that.  Perhaps it’s just another gimmick to sell more wine.  As for the flower wine, I have sampled two varieties:  Baekhwaju and another variety that I don’t know the name of.  The Baekhwaju is made with over 100 different flowers (Baek in Korean means 100), and it was very smooth.IMG_0025  It was like drinking a chamomile tea with minimal alcohol aftertaste.  The other bottle was a bit more intense in regard to flavor, and I think that it might have been Dugyeonju which is made with azalea petals.IMG_0024  It was slightly more viscous than the 100 flower wine which also added a texture factor that I didn’t particularly enjoy.  Moving on from that slightly negative note, next is a rice wine that I greatly  relish in imbibing.

Makkoli is a rice wine that I actually really enjoy compared to the other Korean beverages I’ve tried so far.IMG_1172  I knew Japan had its signature sake rice wine, but I didn’t know that Korea had their own version of it.  While sake is consumed either cold or warm, Makkoli is typically consumed while cold.  It’s a blend of rice, wheat, and water which ends up as a drink that looks almost like milk.  The first time I had Makkoli was during our orientation trip to Ganghwa island outside of Incheon, and we had lunch at a peasant village with a Korean tour group.  While we were eating our kimchi and chapchae, a bright green bottle caught my eye on the table.  I poured some of the milky liquid into my cup, and I was very satisfied with the taste.  It was almost like drinking a carbonated vanilla milkshake minus the richness of the butterfat and instead had a slight alcohol aftertaste.  Still, not too bad, and I definitely enjoy it more than drinking soju even though both have very low alcohol percentages.  Then there is Korean beer…

Buying mekju in Korea is buying in bulk

Buying mekju in Korea is buying in bulk

Asia really isn’t known for having amazing beer like traditional  brewmasters Germany, England, and the USA due to varying local resources, but Korean breweries have seemingly modeled most of their beers off of many of the large American lagers like Budweiser and Coors.  The three biggest brands are Hite, OB, and Cass.  I’ve tried all three, and they’re nothing to brag about.  They’re pretty run of the mill in terms of taste (minimal hops and quite thin in regard to body), but at least they’re affordable compared to foreign beers.  Sadly they don’t have any dark beer to speak of, but beggars can’t be choosers when in a different place.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this special post celebration 60 wonderful posts of food and drink adventures.  Raise a glass and here’s to 60 more!

Red Bi Bim Bap, I Eat You Up

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Hello or should I say, Annyeong haseyo to everyone out there!  I have officially moved to South Korea, and I have already tried one of their signature dishes:  dol sot bi bim bap.  This blog post is going to be a bit different since you can basically get this dish anywhere in Korea, so instead I’m just going to provide my general impressions of the dish.

My precious

My precious

We just went to a really small place right by the hotel we’re staying in by the Incheon airport, but it was very welcoming.  I decided to get the dol sot bi bim bap because I’ve had it before stateside, so I wanted to see how it would taste in the heart of the motherland (preview:  delicious).  If you’ve never heard of this meal before, it is a hot bowl that is filled with rice, carrots, bean sprouts, assorted greens, zucchini  and cucumber to name a few ingredients.  Plus, it had a raw egg on top that I had to stir along the sides of the pot in order for it to completely cook and mix among the veggies.  I even gave it a healthy dose of gojuchang or red chili pepper sauce which supposedly was supposed to be spicy.  Overall, I greatly enjoyed the bi bim bap since the vegetables like the cucumbers were fresh and flavorful.  The rice was cooked to perfection with a slight crispiness thanks to the sesame oil used in the bottom of the stone dish, and the red chili pepper sauce had a slight kick to it but nothing too crazy for yours truly.  I would liken it to maybe a Tapatio or Yucateco hot sauce level of spiciness.  It was also accompanied with this very thin and flavorless broth that was filled with what seemed like green onions, but it was so bland that it was like drinking water.  Oh well, at least I filled up on delicious rice and vegetables.  I had my first Korean beer, Cass, which was not as terrible as I thought it was going to be after trying other Asian beers.  I would liken it to a more flavorful Coors Light.  So yeah, if you’re afraid of Korean cuisine, bi bim bap is a great starter dish.

One Tasty Mofo

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Hello to everyone out there on the interwebz and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Since I’m finally recovering from the crazy Super Bowl weekend, this will be a relatively short post.  Actually, it revolves around a restaurant/bar that I tried in downtown Chicago that apparently is one, or perhaps the, sports bar to watch Chicago sports or any event for that matter.  I’m talking about Mother Hubbards located at 5 W Hubbard St  Chicago, IL 60654.

I had actually never been to this place until someone suggested that we should check it out for Superbowl Sunday.  Naturally, I am always down for a new adventure, so we made our way over to the establishment.  As soon as we walked in, I could see what all of the hullabaloo was about.  The walls were figuratively made of televisions, but it was definitely a good sign that I was not going to have to jerk my head about like a goon to catch a good view of the epic match-up between the Ravens and 49ers.  Since I didn’t feel too hungry, I decided to go with something on the lighter side of the menu.  I saw that they have the typical bar food like ribs, burgers, and Chicago hotdogs, but the “make your own grilled cheese” option seemed to be more fitting for my appetite at the time.  There were so many options that I felt almost like a manically giggling Xzibit on Pimp My Sandwich, but I repressed my foodie urges to not scare our waitress.

"Yo dawg, I heard you like grilled cheez sandwiches, so we put grilled cheez sandwiches in your grilled cheez!"

“Yo dawg, I heard you like grilled cheez sandwiches, so we put grilled cheez sandwiches in your grilled cheez!”

I ended up choosing Chihuahua and Pepper Jack topped with Guacamole and fresh jalapenos on grilled rye bread.  Plus, it came with a side of fries and a cup of homemade chicken vegetable soup.IMG_1100

When it finally came out, I was a bit underwhelmed by how small it seemed to be.  It didn’t really seem to have the bombastic presentation of a previous grilled cheese restaurant we visited (See The Big Cheese).  However, I was not planning on judging a sandwich by its crust.  In reality, I found the sandwich to be a great fusion of Latino flavors with an American comfort food staple.  Starting with the bread, it was pan-grilled to golden perfection, and the fleeting caresses of the caraway seeds provided an extra je ne sais quoi.  The cheeses were plentiful but didn’t have very strong flavors.  I know that the two aforementioned types of cheese aren’t blues by any means, but I would have appreciated a little more pop from the Pepper Jack.  As for the guacamole, I’m not sure what separated it from the avocado option on the option, but it just seemed like they mashed up an avocado for my sandwich.  There weren’t any discernible onions, tomatoes, and/or lime flavors that I am accustomed to tasting in any standard guacamole.  It wasn’t a terrible spread but merely average.  The jalapenos, on the other hand, were very fresh rings of seed packed flavor discs.  They were crunchy and  nipping my taste buds like a herd of feral Chihuahuas.  Plus, I found that even though there was a generous helping of the guacamole on top of the jalapenos, not once did I fear for the safety of my sandwich.  Normally these types of sandwiches with slippery spreads fall apart very quickly when you’re on a feeding frenzy, but Mother Hubbards makes a tasty and well-constructed bite to eat.  As for the fries and soup, the fries were pretty tasty since they were golden and crispy and barely greasy.  The soup was naturally the perfect side for the sandwich, and the hearty chunks of chicken and fresh carrots and onions fortified me against the bone-chilling Chicago winter gusts I encountered after the game.  The entire dining experience was enjoyable, and the wait staff was very attentive throughout the game.  Even though my team didn’t win, I felt I scored a mini-victory in choosing a tasty menu option.

So if you’re looking for a solid sports bar to watch your favorite team or a place to hold a boisterous get together with equally loud flavors, then come on down to Mother Hubbards!

Mother Hubbard's Sports Pub on Urbanspoon

Mother Hubbard's on Foodio54

79 A.D. (Always.Delicious.)

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Hello to everyone out there and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Throughout the history of mankind, we have been plagued with many different types of natural disasters:  earthquakes, floods, and volcano eruptions.  The first two events are more common than the last one, but volcanoes seem to hold a special place in the place of the human mind in terms of threats from nature.  They are so unpredictable and powerful like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.  The cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were completely covered in ash, and their inhabitants were flash frozen in lava casts.  What does this have to do with food?  Well, yesternight I tried the best Chicken Vesuvio ever at the oldest  Italian restaurant in Chicago, Italian Village, located at 71 West Monroe Street  Chicago, IL 60603.

italian-village

There are three different sections to the restaurant, and each area has its own theme.  Even though it may sound a bit tacky/kitschy, we ended up dining in the quaint “Village” room upstairs.  It was decorated with white lights strung across the ceiling like a big famiglia party I saw in San Gimignano, Italy, and there were mini village buildings along the walls that I assumed you could eat inside for an extra fee.

Che romantico

Che romantico

Upon looking at the menu, I could see that the establishment definitely was well stocked with plenty of Italian American favorites like different types of Parmesans and stuffed pastas.  We even received the typical basket of pane italiano and crispy breadsticks without butter.  The olive oil and Parmesan cheese they provided at the table were high quality and made a great combo with the fresh, semi-crusty bread.  Between bites of the delicious carbs, I saw they served a classic Chicago Italian-American dish:  Chicken Vesuvio.  If I was going to dine at the oldest Italian restaurant in Chicago, I might as well get a meal invented in the same city. This dish also had to cook for thirty minutes, so I  ordered a glass of the Barbera red wine.  Plus, since I ordered one of the entrees, I had the choice of soup or salad.  I decided to plump for a side salad with ranch dressing.  The salad itself was nothing special.IMG_1082 It had the typical mix of lettuce, mixed greens, a tomato slice, julienned carrots, and just the right amount of semi-watery Ranch.  I was surprised for how fast they delivered the salad to me that the vegetables were so fresh and delicious.  Perhaps they don’t prefabricate their salads and are just speed demons on the cook line.

Cooking as good as nonna's

Cooking as good as nonna’s

After waiting patiently, my Chicken Vesuvio came out. I was face to face with half a chicken and roasted potato wedges.  Both the potatoes and chicken were herb encrusted, deep brown, and cavorting with each other in a delicious pool of herbs and chicken drippings.  Sounds kind of like a season of the Jersey Shore.  I decided to scale this gastronomic volcano of deliciousness, and it erupted with flavor from the first bite of a potato wedge.  The tubers were semi-crispy on the outside with hints of rosemary and oregano, and the insides were pure white like the snow of the Italian alps.  As for the chicken, the chicken broth made the meat extra succulent since it was literally falling off the bone.  The best part of the meal was combining the crispy skin with the juicy white meat and dipping it into the broth. My Barbera wine went well with this savory dish even though it wasn’t really red meat.  This Piedmontese libation was slighty acidic but bold; two attributes that really brought out the herbs of the broth and chicken skin.  A word of caution:  there might be some splatter with the broth while you’re cutting the chicken.  So if you’re wearing anything fancy on that first date, don’t get too excited while tucking into this festa italiana.    Once the smoke settled from this smoking cauldron of deliciousness, I was stuffed and satisfied with my choice.

So if you want to experience a piece of authentic Chicago, Italian American cuisine, and/or believe that abbondanza is a virtue in cooking, remember that all roads lead to Italian Village!

Italian Village on Urbanspoon

Champpion of Burgers? Not Quite

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Hello to everyone out there in the blogosphere to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I am going to be talking about a restaurant that I had been to before, but I never really tried their take on a classic type of burger.  The restaurant I’m referring to is Champps Americana Restaurant located at 2301 Fountain Square Drive Lombard, IL.

The establishment is a typical American sports bar, but I did see an item on their menu that played to one of my culinary weaknesses:  spicy food.  Now I have proclaimed my spice tolerance in previous blog posts, so I won’t go into much detail about my Man versus Food-esque type adventures.  However, I did see the Firehouse Burger which was calling to me like a spicy south of the border senora.  Vale, vengo ahorita, mi amor!  I got it well-done (I know many meat-lovers will call me a savage for “burning” my meat), and it looked delicious when it was presented to me.  According to the menu, I was face to face with probably a half-pound mound of beef festooned with red and yellow bell peppers, green chiles, poblano peppers, onions, Chipotle Tabasco, Cajun seasoning, pepperjack cheese, and fresh jalapeno peppers.  These various ingredients separated this burger in my mind from other typical spicy burgers I’ve tried in the past.

Disregard the sweet potato fries and put in delicious waffle fries

Disregard the sweet potato fries and insert delicious waffle fries

Plus, it was accompanied with a mini-molehill of waffle fries.  When I started on the burger, I had to slice it in half because I put everything on it, and I can’t unhinge my jaw like a python swallowing a baby hippo.  Upon first bite, I realized that I was in for a messy time because they seemed to have doused the bun with Tabasco which in turn led the bun to become quite soggy.  Naturally, my originally firm grasp of the burger deteriorated into a melange of cheese and peppers.  Thankfully the extra gooey and tasty pepper jack managed to hold it all together like some type of magical dairy rubber cement.  So this detracted from the meal’s greatness, and the mild bell and poblano peppers really didn’t do much for the burger.  Sure, they added vibrant colors to the general beige background of a hamburger, but they were mushed into the background.  However, the jalapenos were game-changers because not only did their vibrant verdant hue brighten up the plate, but their crisp texture and loud flavor allowed the true spice of the burger shine above the general muck of mild peppers.  Once I finally demolished my main entree, I began chipping away at the waffle fries which were not quite golden brown but were still crunchy on the outside and fluffy white on the inside with minimal salt=perfect fries.

No CTA pass necessary for this deliciousness

No CTA pass necessary for this deliciousness

Afterward, I found out that they had a drink special (I don’t know if it’s everyday or not) where I could get a pint of certain beers for only $2.50!  That is quite good for the Chicago suburbs for those of you who are unaware.  I decided to pick a pint of Goose Island’s Green Line.  It’s a pale ale that has a golden hue, and I could smell a slight citrusy aroma wafting toward me during every sip.  There was a clear bitter, hoppy bite to the brew, but it was not overwhelming like other IPAs.  If you’re looking for stronger tasting beers, this would be the equivalent of sticking your toe in the swimming pool to see if you’re ready to do a cannonball into the wonderful world of beer tasting.

So if you’re looking for some interesting burgers or great drink deals, head on down to Champps!  It’s not quite the m.v.p. of sports bars, but I think if they work on the fundamentals they could be in the pantheon of greats.

Champps Americana on Urbanspoon

No Sticky Wickets

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Hello everyone to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be doing a brief review of a restaurant where I tried something that I didn’t really expect to find on their menu.  The restaurant in question is Wickets Bar and Grill located at 601 N Martingale Rd (at Woodfield Rd)  Schaumburg, IL 60173.

I was meeting some college friends there just to catch up on things, and I didn’t know really what to expect from this establishment.  Based off the name, I would have thought that we were going to be eating in an imitation English gastropub of some sort due to the cricket reference in the title.  Instead, I walked into a very sleek sports bar that did not have a single Guinness poster anywhere or a cricket bat on the wall.  The menu did have the usual litany of bar food items like nachos and burgers, but I began to see a pattern emerging that was downright confusing.  Wickets offers different types of samosas for appetizers, a chicken tikka sandwich, and tandoori chicken skewers.  Why was Indian  food on a sports bar menu?  My friend and I hypothesized that there was one Indian master chef who was called upon to make these delicious treats from his homeland.  Either that or it was a nod to the popularity of cricket in South Asia and other British colonies.  Menu construction theories aside, I decided to go for the two skewer platter and a Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale to drink.IMG_1080

I had already had this particular brew from Lagunitas before, but I knew that I couldn’t go wrong with this choice.  If you haven’t had it before, it is an amber-colored beer with a clear hoppy taste that covers your palate initially, but at the end it gives you a little smooth sum sumpin’ at the end that makes you always come back for more.  If you enjoy IPAs, I would recommend this beer to you.

Stomach don't fail me now!

Stomach don’t fail me now!

As for my entrée, I went with one skewer of beef with vegetables and the other with chicken tikka tandoori with vegetables.  They were both served on a bed of basmati rice infused with herbs which was surrounded by golden flatbread triangles.  Plus, I decided to get the cucumber chive yogurt sauce that was served on the side.  Taken all together, these skewers were on point in terms of quantity and quality.  If you are not really hungry, then you will take some of this home with you.  The basmati rice with herbs was cooked to perfection, and the herbs provided the starch with whispers of rosemary and parsley.   I used the flatbread wedges as pseudo-pizza slices to put the yogurt sauce on like sauce and then piled on the meat and rice which gave the meal an Indian vibe since I was eating with my hands which I always enjoy.  The Tandoori chicken was actually quite tasty since it tasted exactly like the same dish I tried in some of the Indian restaurants I visited in London.  If you never had Tandoori chicken, it is a type of specially cooked chicken coated with the right blend of cumin, turmeric, chili, and a slightly charred aftertaste.  The beef was equally delectable since it was grilled completely through but still quite succulent.  As for the veggies, it was a mix of mushrooms, green and yellow zucchini, bell peppers, and onions.  All were adequately grilled, but they still maintained their original integrity which I enjoyed since sometimes over-grilling can lead to crumbling in  vegetables with higher water content.  Finally, the yogurt sauce was like mix between tzatziki and the Indian raita; the neutral yogurt element provided a cooling element to the slightly spicy tandoori chicken  and the cucumbers and chives provided a texture change that interacted nicely with the semi-crispy flatbread.

Overall, I was stuffed and a satisfied customer.  So if you’re looking for some delicious Indian influenced food in a very non-Indian environment, come on down to Wickets Bar and Grill!

Wickets Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Wickets Bar and Grill on Foodio54

Drop It Like It’s Hot Pot! Part 1

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Hello everyone out there and happy new year!  Today’s post I will be doing something that is a bit different from the typical Mastication Monologues that you all know and love.  Instead of reviewing a restaurant, I will be talking about a certain type of cuisine that I have never had before but have always wanted to try:  hot pot.

Now I do love my Panda Express and other types of insanely Americanized Asian food including the ubiquitous fortune cookie and orange chicken, but I always have found authentic Chinese cuisine to be quite interesting in terms of how many different types of ingredients are used and variations there are on dishes depending on which city you are in.  Hot pot is no different.  To ring in 2013 right, my friend David invited me over to his family’s hot pot dinner, so I naturally was honored to be brought along for this culinary adventure.

My gracious hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Wu, and I

My gracious hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Wu, and I

I had already some basic background knowledge about this type of meal going into it, but I quickly found out that hot pot is much more complicated and nuanced than just sticking random vegetables and strips of meat into a boiling pot of water.  Before we even sat down, I was immediately faced with my first new snack of the evening, congealed roe with slices of daikon radish.  I’ve had daikon radish before from sushi platters, but I have never consumed fish eggs in any form.  Upon first glance, I was surprised that the roe looked like small woodchips instead of the more recognizable orange or black caviar pearls.  I ended up eating the roe on the radish like a slice of cheese on a Ritz cracker, and it was an interesting blend of textures and flavors.  Biting through the fish roe felt almost like eating a piece of hard cheese that had elements of beef jerky and smoked fish coursing throughout its semi-smooth interior, and the daikon left a light and crisp impression on my palate.  I helped myself to a couple more servings of this fish dish, but I was quickly whisked away to try a new drink.

The radish is part ninja blending into the top part of the plate

The radish is part ninja blending into the top part of the plate

Even though I had a Blue Moon in my hand, my friend David asked me if I’d like to try a homemade version of soy milk.  Naturally, I said, “Bring it on!”  He led me over to the kitchen where he poured out some pastel green liquid in a cup for me.  I had initially spied these containers of green goop thinking that it was going to be some sort of sauce for meat, but boy was I wrong.  So I took a sip of the soy milk, and it was quite thin in consistency with a mostly neutral taste and slightly grassy undertones.

Soy milk on the right, prawn paste on the right

Soy milk on the left, prawn paste on the right

However, David kicked it up a notch Ming Tsai style by adding some honey to this Chinese drink, and it made it taste sort of like milk with sugar in it.  Plus, the highly viscous honey added a bit more body to the beverage which made it more filling and complimented the spicy three-ring circus that was to come when we finally sat down for the actual hot pot where I managed to finally use chopsticks for an entire meal, eat Chinese pizza, and cheers to the new year…but you’ll have to wait for the next post to hear about the second part of this delectable dinner!

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

Going Out With A Bang

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‘Ello everyone!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues.  I am currently writing this while rocking a food baby to sleep on this cold November evening.  Even though I may have had a bit of a rough day today, I still managed to have a dinner that chased away the blues and the cool weather.  I ended up going out to a British gastropub called Chequers located at 100 West Burlington Avenue  La Grange, IL 60525.

At first I had looked up some reviews on Yelp to see what exactly I should expect from this restaurant, and I did not see many good comments.  Now, I did take these reviews with a grain of salt since some foodies out there are quite demanding of establishments, and the British aren’t known for their culinary prowess.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  Upon walking through the doors, I was greeted with a beefeater cutout and plenty of kitschy 19th century pictures of England and advertisements for travel, beer, and stereopticons(well, maybe not that last one).  The service was very prompt, and the actual interior was quite cozy for a winter night.  To drink, I went with a Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale since it was on special, and I do love my pumpkin flavored items aside from the pumpkin lattes or whatever they are at Starbucks.

A fine brew for a bite

I know I’m going to get a lot of hate mail from that statement, but c’est la vie.  Anyway, the actual beer was quite tasty.  It had an orange amber hue that embodied a light, spicy flavor with a slight pumpkin aftertaste with every sip.  It provided a classy undertone to the overtures of our larger than life appetizers:  onion rings and Welsh rarebit.

Appetizers fit for Godzilla

The former was pretty straight forward in terms of presentation since there are only so many ways one can cut up onions and fry them.  However, these rings were literally big enough to be worn as bracelets.  Even though these monstrous rings could serve as earrings for Shaq, their taste was equally large.  The breading was crisp and buttery and thankfully not very greasy.  The accompanying sauce was a tasty spicy ranch with a horseradish and black pepper foundation.  With the latter appetizer, the Welsh rarebit, I have always wondered of what it consisted?  For the longest time, I would think that it involved rabbit meat in some form since “rarebit” looks similar when glanced at very quickly.  However, I would cross off another food on my bucket list since I found out that it is the rough English equivalent of fondue sans the forks and mini-pot of cheese.  Instead, it is a small casserole dish of melted Cotswold cheese (the very same that people chase in the Cotswold Games), stout, mustard, and Cayenne pepper.  This spread was then supposed to be eaten on the toast points provided with the dish, and the bread was a wheat rye that was nicely toasted.  The melted cheese was quite smooth and savory, akin to a Gouda, while I could taste the hearty stout mingling with the semi-sweet mustard.  ‘Twas good to say that I had it, but I don’t know if I would get it again.

Shhh! Don’t wake the sausages

Once we managed to somehow destroy these two appetizers (it was mainly me), I got down to business with my main dish:  bangers and mash.  Now I know that there are certain Britishisms that make Americans go tee-hee, i.e. fags, bangers, and rubbers (translations:  cigarettes, sausages, and erasers), but this meal made my stomach go tee-hee with how delicious it was.  First, the sausages were roasted in a stone ground mustard sauce that still had the seeds in it which was a nice rustic touch.  Its semi-sweet/acidic yellow mustard taste complimented the pork based sausage perfectly.  As for the sides, the mash was smoother than Cool Whip and somehow incredibly buttertastic without having an entire irrigation system of Land O’ Lakes extending slowly across my plate.  The steamed vegetables were pretty pedestrian, but they were adequately prepared.  It was a hodgepodge of cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, and carrots.

By the time we finished, the pumpkin bread pudding for dessert was a long way away in my mind.  I had bigger problems to deal with like attempting to maintain consciousness on the border of a food coma.  So if you’re looking for a slice of jolly old England with an American twist in regard to portion sizes, cheque out Chequers!

Chequers on Urbanspoon

Chequers of Lagrange on Foodio54

Not the Wurst Joint I’ve Been To

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Hello to everyone out there in the blogosphere!  Welcome to another classic restaurant review on Mastication Monologues.  Yesterday, I visited  a restaurant in Chicago that is an institution and a symbol of German-American pride in the city.  It is called The Berghoff Restaurant and is located at 17 West Adams Street  Chicago, IL 60603.

In the current landscape of restaurants in America, it seems that there is a huge demand for food that is cutting edge in terms of taste, preparation, and presentation.  Unfortunately, it has come at the expense of the classic ethnic establishments that serve old-world comfort food that may not win any beauty contests, but like Shallow Hal, diners (hopefully) realize that the beauty of these dishes lies within their heartiness, fresh ingredients, and simplicity.  The Berghoff has been in operation since 1898, and as soon as you walk through their stained glass doors you can just feel the history emanating from their rich Mahogany walls.  This connection to the past and traditions is reflected in their menu as it contains many German food staples, and there are other options for those who are not looking to get their Wienerschnitzel on (burgers, sandwiches, salads, and even Tandoori chicken).  I, however, decided to say guten tag to their slow braised drunken ox joints, and I plumped for their Oktoberfest beer to drink since it was on special.  While we were waiting, they provided us with a free bread basket that was great since it contained fresh artisan white bread, rye bread, and a baked flat-bread that had cheese baked into it.  Based off of taste, it probably was Parmesan.

Hello Liebchen

When my ox joints came out, it was tastefully displaced like a mighty meat monarch who sported a crown of sautéed julienned onions and was surrounded by his pumpkin gnocchi minions who were kowtowing to their ruler.  I didn’t waste time tucking into the ox joint, and it was an interesting experience.  First, there was a good amount of fat on one side of the meat which I didn’t mind, but it was quite hard to hold the bone in one place while trying to take the meat off.  Thankfully, the meat was tender and literally falling off the bone which made my job a lot easier.  The meat was covered in a Berghoff bourbon sauce that was like some sort of magical ambrosia that made the beef even more succulent with each bite.  However, after working like an archeologist on the joint, I found out that I was eating meat off of a vertebrae, not a joint.  I don’t know if this is a ploy to give you less meat, but it left me disappointed since a majority of my meal was bone.  Underneath the hockey puck of meat there was a delicate blanket of sautéed Swiss chard that provided a rich, spinachy bite to the savory beef.  The gnocchi were the most interesting part since they were lightly fried, firm, and had a slight pumpkin aftertaste.  Now, I know during Fall people go pumpkin-flavored product crazy, but I definitely don’t fall into that category.  Regardless of my leanings, the fact that the dumplings didn’t overwhelm me with pumpkintastic flavors left me a happy diner.  My Oktoberfest beer was definitely not for the weak stomached since it is similar to the Marzenstyle beers that they serve at the world-famous harvest festival in Germany.  Its reddish-brown hue contained a moderate bitterness that was then followed by a hop aftertaste that left me blown away at its boldness.

Ein Bier mit Attitude

So if you’re looking for eine kleine piece of Deutchland in Chicago, head down to the Berghoff Restaurant.

Berghoff on Urbanspoon

Berghoff on Foodio54

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