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Not Phonomenal

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be talking about a partially failed food mission that ended up turning out alright in the end.  At first, I was planning on trying Taco Cielo in the south of Incheon, but for some reason, they were closed on a Saturday afternoon (because you totally wouldn’t make any money then).  Not to be deterred, I knew that O’Malley’s Irish Pub was right next door, and I wouldn’t have minded sinking my choppers into a juicy burger or some other form of deep-fried bar food.  Unfortunately, their sign said that they didn’t open until 6 pm.  Talk about being on a roll.  I ended up going to a Vietnamese restaurant I saw during my walk to Taco Cielo called Pho Mein.  It’s located across the street from the main Shinsegae Department Store in Incheon.  Here is their website (sorry, it’s only in Korean) http://phomein.com/Main/.IMG_0449

Even though I suffered some initial setbacks, this gourmand was gunning to try Korea’s take on a Vietnamese classic dish, and I was pleased when I first walked through the door.  Although it didn’t possess the Southeast Asian hustle and bustle charms of Tank Noodle like back home in Chicago’s Argyle neighborhood, a.k.a. Little Saigon, (See:  “Getting Tanked“) its slick, modern decor made for a very comforting dining experience.IMG_0452  I decided to order a large bowl of the large spicy pho (12,000 Won).  I was kind of curious to see if the Koreans were actually going to make it spicy or just Kimchi spicy which is quite mild when it comes to bringing the heat.  Not only do they serve pho, but they also have fried rice dishes and meat dishes like fried cashew chicken.  While I was waiting, I saw that they had a bottle of hoisin sauce and another bottle of red chili sauce along with chopsticks, spoons, and napkins.  They also provided me with a complimentary carafe of cold green tea which was quite refreshing during this increasingly humid Korean summer.   My giant bowl of soup quickly came out to my table in probably 10 minutes.  I could then tell that this very flavorful dish was subdued for Korean tastes aside from the spice level.

Uhh, what the phok?

Uhh, what the phok?

 That was the first surprise as the devilishly red beef broth provided me with a good burn that I have been missing in Korea for so long now.  The thin and long rice noodles were expertly made al dente, and the thin slices of beef melted in my mouth.  The more subdued parts of the meal were exemplified in the garnishes that were provided with my bowl of pho.  I was supplied with yellow pickled radish pieces, sweet pickled onions, and raw bean sprouts instead of the more fanciful flavors of cilantro, lime, and jalapenos.  The lack of traditional garnishes reflected the Korean adaptation of the Vietnamese classic for local palates to my great displeasure.  Plus, compared to Tank Noodle’s version of pho, there was no tripe or sweet basil floating in the broth which definitely took away a certain exotic element from the food.

Overall, I was pleased with the amount of food that I got for the price, and it was a solid meal.  However, the fact that it was Koreanized took away from its potential to be a truly great dish.  So if you’re looking to try a little bit of Vietnam in Korea, I’d recommend Pho Mein for its excellent service, lovely surroundings, and competently made food.IMG_0450

It’s Easy Being Green

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Hello and welcome to part two of my Easter special on Mastication Monologues!  Today I am going to be talking about a classic Korean noodle shop that my friend introduced me to for Easter lunch.

Even though I’m far away from friends and family back home, I at least found a Catholic cathedral in Korea that I could go to to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  I was interested to see the Koreans’ take on mass since I have been to services in other foreign countries, and each nation has their own take on the Catholic rites.  I went to the Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul on a beautiful Sunday, and the Church was pretty impressive in size and design (Gothic, specifically).  After mass, I didn’t have anything planned for this lazy Sunday since there strangely wasn’t anything Easter themed to do in a country that has tons of fervent Christians yet not even one type of Easter candy or colorful egg.  So my friend, Steph, met up with me for lunch since we both were starving.  We ended up at Myeongdong Gyoja which is a Korean noodle house that has been open for over forty years in Seoul.gyo

They are known for their kalguksu or hand cut noodles, and only have four to five dishes on their menu.  Most of them are noodle broth meals, but they do offer steamed dumplings as well.  Steph told me that their specialty was the meat broth option, but I saw the spicy noodle option (bi bim guksu).  Obviously, I gave into my weakness for all things spicy and decided to give it a try.  The service was very prompt in the extremely busy and semi-cramped restaurant.  You also share tables with other diners if it’s just two of you, so just a heads up for those of you looking for a place to have an intimate conversation or want a bit more privacy while dining.  It was 8,000 won upfront for the noodles along with some kimchi banchan, a bowl of beef broth, rice, and gum for the ubiquitous after-dinner breath in Korea.IMG_1353  All of it looked very fresh and elegantly presented especially the noodles that were unlike any noodles I have seen before in Korea. They were a deep forest green!  It didn’t really deter me much as I tucked into the verdant jumble of deliciousness.  The noodles were very supple and thin and were thickly coated in red pepper powder and gochujang chili sauce.  Plus, bi bim guksu is a cold noodle dish, so I was kind of caught off guard with the first bite.  It wasn’t too spicy for yours truly, but every bite contained an undercurrent of cucumber notes that came from the cucumber slices that were hiding underneath the green tangle and the freshly julienned cukes on the side.  By the time I reached the end of the bowl, I was filling up fast on the glorious noodles, but I had room for finishing off the kimchi.  I’m going to say it now, but this was the first bowl of kimchi that actually was somewhat spicy.  For some reason, the chili sauce they doused the cabbage in had a strange numbing-spiciness I could only liken to a Sichuan chili sauce I had at my friend David’s hot-pot dinner (See Drop It Like It’s Hot Pot).  There was also a lot of garlic powder in it, hence the gum.  I had two helpings of this fiery side-dish much to the surprise of one of the waitresses who went along scooping more into other diners’ bowls.  So if you like spice, definitely check out the kimchi at Myeongdong Gyoja.  As for the beef broth, it was very simple but intensely flavorful.  I’m sure it was quite high in sodium like a lot of broths, but it tasted like I was biting into a succulent steak roasted by God on this holy day.

Anyway, I give Meyongdong Gyoja the waygookin (foreigner) seal of approval if you want to try a piece of Korean traditional cuisine in a famous place or at least try some kimchi that lives up to its spicy reputation.

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

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