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Getting Our Just Desserts

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Today’s post on Mastication Monologues is one of my sweetest and over the top posts I’ve ever written!  If you have a sweet tooth that borderlines on a diabetic condition like I do, then you’re going to love this entry.  Last weekend, Janice and I experienced the final part of my one year anniversary gift that she got for me:  two tickets to Chicago’s Dessert Fest.  What a sweetheart!

When we got to the venue, River North’s John Barleycorn and Moe’s Cantina, there was already a line out the door and an accompanying mob once we got inside.  Everywhere we looked, we could see plenty of delicious treats being enjoyed by the guests.  While we weren’t swayed by the sundae bar that seemed pretty weak for an epic event like this one, we were more interested in the cake table with desserts made from Fabiana’s Bakery.  Not only did it boast a wonderfully delicious, buttercream-coated, cyclops rainbow cake that won “Most Craveable Dessert”IMG_6451 but also a decadent chocolate ganache wedding cake served in plastic shotglasses.IMG_6452  We definitely got crunk on those nuggets of rich dark chocolate goodness.  We quickly moved our ways through the munching masses and were confronted with a barker of sorts who bellowed, “WHO WANTS FREE ICE CREAM?!!  THIS IS DESSERT FEST!!!!”  I didn’t know King Leonidas worked dessert fairs in his spare time. Naturally, Janice’s and my hands shot up because we’re all about the cold stuff.  He hooked us up with free Blue Bunny turtle bars that was a combo of pure vanilla ice cream coated in a crunchy milk chocolate shell with the occasional hunk of pecans and caramel.  IMG_6454Simply the best, bar none! 11188221_10105701925746959_7766073886550940910_n We managed to snag a sample of macarons from a table that was mobbed with people.  I snapped up a chocolate one and a passion fruit one while Janice got a raspberry one.  They were perfect from their semi-sticky middles to the airy yet firm cookies.

Chocolate and passion fruit macarons.

Chocolate and passion fruit macarons

I personally felt the raspberry combined with the chocolate one was the ideal combination, but the passion fruit was a bland letdown.  We made our way upstairs to the sun-splashed second floor of John Barleycorn where they were slinging champagne and white wine with banana creme pie samples. IMG_6457 I got a glass of bubbly while Janice and I shared a nibble looking out over the crowd by the bar while lounging on a leather couch.  The banana creme pie reminded us of a pina colada with a mix of coconut and cream, but the champagne made it even better.  We made our way down and over to Moe’s Cantina where an entire room was just waiting for me to be explored. IMG_6466Right by the entrance, they had an open kitchen where I saw cooks preparing some sort of cup dessert with cream.IMG_6459  I didn’t have time to spare.  I was on a mission.  I visited each booth and brought back my loot to our table.  What a spread we had once I was done doing my recon mission.IMG_6460  What we ended up with was a slice of Bar Louie’s chocolate cake, voted “Most Delicious Dessert”, but sadly we never tried it since we filled up on the following treats beforehand.  First, there was the Warm Belly Bakery entry that eventually was crowned the Chocolate Champion.IMG_6465  Its presentation left much to be desired, but the brown butter chocolate chip cookies with a salted hazelnut dark chocolate mousse and a raspberry accent was quite a combo.  The cookie seemed a bit undercooked but the rich buttery dough and sweet chocolate combined to perfection with the salty yet earthy mousse.  The raspberry reminded me of our earlier macaron experiment.  While the fruit and chocolate combo was seemingly going to rule the day, the mystery dessert I had witnessed a few minutes earlier ended up rocking my world.  Turns out it is a Mexican dessert from Moe’s Cantina called a crispy xango (pronounced “zan-go”with berries and cream.  IMG_6462What is consisted of was a deep fried tortilla, coated in cinnamon and sugar churro style, and filled with a berry infused cream.  Janice got even more of the lowdown from one the employees.  Turns out they import their tortillas from Nuevo Leon in Mexico, and the cream even had a slight Bailey’s infusion to the cream.  Deep fried treats and a boozy sweet element?  I’ll take it!  I spread the cream evenly over the crunchy and crumbly surface like butter, and it was an ideal combo of textures and flavors.  By the time we made our ways upstairs, we walked past Old Crow Smokehouse’s plethora of key lime pies, which were given the “Perfected Classic Award”.  IMG_6467IMG_6468We didn’t sample any, but we did get a taste of some after-dinner digestifs.  Digestif is a term from French that refers to a drink that supposedly aids digestion.  The ones we samples were of an Italian variety in the shape of an amaro and a limoncello.  The former is an herbal liqueur that is often consumed neat, and has roots in the 19th century often originating in pharmacies or monasteries.  The name “amaro” means “bitter” in Italian, and I could see why.Lucano  I could only liken the taste of it to a less syrupy/obnoxious Jaegermeister.  It was potent but bursting with anise, ginger, and licorice.  As for the limoncello that Janice tried, it is a very different digestif compared to the amaro.  First, it is a bright yellow that comes from the lemon zests (hence the name) that are used to make the alcohol.  Second, it is more regional in nature given that it is a mainly southern Italian drink.  The one we had came from the southeastern region of Italy called Abruzzo which is kind of close to the heel of the boot of the peninsula.  Tastewise, it cleansed the palate of all of the sugar we had previously consumed but also perked us up with a strong, lemon scented kick.  As we left the festival, it was like leaving some sort of wonderful, Willy Wonka-esque type of dream, but it was a great gift from my lovely girlfriend.  I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a good and calories-be-damned sort of time!11248149_10105702971601059_1612555248785757579_n

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Good But Not Gr8

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Welcome to Mastication Monologues!  If this is your first time here, prepare to be amazed with some of the most unique and delicious food adventures you’ve ever seen.  If you’re coming back, then thank you so much for your support and your views.  Remember to always tell your friends about my reviews as well.  So, today’s post deals with a cuisine that I never really dabbled seriously in until recently:  Vietnamese food.  For a majority of my life, I ate mostly Chinese or Japanese food, but then I started dating my lovely gf Janice who just so happened to live next to Little Vietnam in Chicago.  Therefore, the amount of Vietnamese restaurants I have tried now have increased greatly, and Pho 888 is one of them.

If you walk down Argyle street, you’ll be beckoned by every storefront since there is a plethora of Vietnamese eateries and Chinese bakeries like the iconic Tank Noodle shop or Bale Sandwiches, but I wanted to try Pho 888 since I had heard good things about it.  Plus, it didn’t seem as Hollywood as the more popular eateries.IMG_6026 Janice, Michael, and I hit this place up back in December a.k.a. life in the Ice Age.  So, they both wanted to get the quintessential Vietnamese dish, pho, but I was in the mood for something different.  Inside, the place was super simply furnished with plenty of chili sauces and seasonings on the table.  It’s literally a dining room and a kitchen.IMG_4917 The menu was huge like any good Asian restaurant, and the prices were pretty cheap (range of 4-12 bucks per item). IMG_4916 After a bit of deliberation, we made our choices and waited for the food to come out.  The first dish we sampled were the gỏi cuốn or “salad rolls” in English.  They consisted of bún (vermicelli noodles), cooked shrimp, herbs, greens, and it was all wrapped up in bánh tráng (rice paper). IMG_4918 These rolls were served at room temperature and were a refreshing alternative to fried spring rolls that sometimes can be too greasy.  The tương xào (hoisin sauce) that was served on the side had peanut pieces in it, but all of it put together was delectable.  The sticky rice paper was strong enough to hold all of the ingredients within its insanely thin cocoon.  Everything from the shrimp to the fresh cilantro and lemongrass made this dish really pop, and dipping the rolls in the sweet hoisin sauce blended well with the herbal notes from the vegetables.  As for the vermicelli, it provided a much needed body to the rolls and a solid foundation for the house party that was happening in my mouth.  The other appetizer we got, the fried shrimp balls, were quite the opposite experience. IMG_4920 While they looked scrumptious on the outside with their golden brown exteriors with an accompaniment of greens, pickled radish, and some sweet and sour dipping sauce on the side, what we found inside was horrifyingly gross.  IMG_4922I don’t know what was inside them, but it was like eating pre-chewed eggs mixed with seafood with the consistency of cream cheese.  I’ll just leave you with that image.   On the plus side, my main course came out soon thereafter I tasted one of these horrid appetizers.  I got the chả tôm (shrimp cake) and pork combo that was paired with more noodles, greens, pickled radish and carrot salad, fresh cucumbers, rice paper, and a bowl of warm water to make my own gỏi cuốn.  IMG_4923I tried a bit of the shrimp cake, but I really didn’t like it.  It was more fishy tasting than the fresh shrimp from the salad rolls we ate earlier in the meal, and it just seemed oddly artificial with its orange, spongy, Nerf-like interior yet wrinkled, glistening exterior.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on one plate

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on one plate

 

That cake ain't right

That cake ain’t right

So, I focused more on eating the seasoned pork that was stir fried in a chili sauce that had plenty of personality to make up for the awkward shrimp cakes on my plate.  So, I set to making my first Vietnamese spring roll.  First, I had to take one of the rice paper disks and submerge it in the warm water.IMG_4924  Once wet, I placed it on my plate, and I placed my ingredients in the middle of the nearly invisible Vietnamese version of a tortilla.IMG_4927  Then came the tricky part.  Rolling this rice paper up into a presentable roll was way more difficult than making a taco since the edges of the rice paper were incredibly sticky which meant that if you didn’t position your toppings right while rolling, then you risked a lopsided roll that will explode all over your hands/clothes when you bite into it.  After some trial and error, I finally got the hang of it, and it was an interactive meal that I really enjoyed.  As for Michael’s and Janice’s pho, I found it to be just below Tank Noodle’s version since it seemed to be a bit more on the salty side, but it still was delicious and kept us warm against the frigid conditions outside.

So if you’re looking for a real authentic Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago that may not be the best but does have simple and fresh food for reasonable prices, check out Pho 888.
Pho 888 on Urbanspoon

A Capital Idea!

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Welcome one and all to part deux of Restaurant Week on Mastication Monologues!  If you’re not sure what Restaurant Week is in Chicago, then I highly recommend reading my first post at Hub 51.  Today’s post is somewhat in the similar but even classier vein of high end dining for low low prices.  While I’m all about trying new and exotic foods, my meal at Capital Grille in Chicago was classic steakhouse dining at its finest.  While it’s not one of the old stalwarts of steak in the home of the dearly departed Union stockyards, I really enjoyed my experience at this establishment.

While walking to Capital Grille, I saw that they had valet parking which is a great deal in a part of down that isn’t known for cheap/free parking.  The outside was just a hint of the regal interior inside that had all the pomp of a classic steakhouse down to the dark wood bar and portraits of random white guys sporting some facial hair that would make any modern day hipster proud. IMG_5810IMG_5834IMG_5833 IMG_5832 Capital Grille even has personal wine kiosks for clients who are willing to pony up the cash for their pinot noir, but the coolest thing I thought was that they even had a cabinet for wine for what seemed to be for anyone who is or has served in the armed forces. IMG_5835 I was quickly led to the table for our guys night out that quickly became a double date plus two dudes.  Still, it was a good time had for all as we kicked off the dinner with some drinks.  I got a glass of the Jameson 12 year Reserve.IMG_5815  This drink was smoother than James Bond and Ron Burgundy in a velvet room.  It was the perfect compliment to the free bread basket that was filled to the brim with crisp flatbreads, warm slices of black rye bread, and rock hard rolls (not a fan, personally). IMG_5813 So, since it was Restaurant Week, I went with the accompanying $33 menu which was a bargain for a three course meal.  For my first course, I went with the wedge with blue cheese and applewood smoked bacon.  Initially, I had to ask the waitress what a “wedge” was since I was curious what this wedge consisted of, and she sarcastically answered that it was a type of salad.  When it came out, it all made sense.  Looking at it, it seemed like the laziest salad ever created. IMG_5817 It literally was a quarter of a head of lettuce with dressing and bacon pieces adorning it and sliced tomatoes placed at the foot of this odd looking dish.  So, I proceeded to sliced the lettuce piece to bite-sized pieces along with mixing it up with the extremely decadent ranch, blue cheese chunks, and bacon.  It was the Paula Dean of salads given how fattening it was yet oh so tasty with the tangy dressing mixing with the salty bacon and pungent blue cheese.  It was only a prelude to the epic entree that came out soon thereafter in the form of the 14 oz. bone-in, dry aged sirloin steak along with a side of mashed potatoes and french beans with heirloom tomatoes. IMG_5824 Funnily enough, the girls at the table got the smaller, 8 oz. filet mignon, but that didn’t take away from its quality. IMG_5823 When I dug into the sirloin, it was heaven in meat form.  I got it medium rare which meant that it still was a bit bloody but well done enough to keep in all of the juicy flavors. IMG_5825 It was superbly succulent, and a generously sized piece of steak for the price.  The sides were equally exquisite.  The mashed potatoes were creamy and buttery, and the beans were neither too firm nor too soft.IMG_5822  Then there were the desserts…lord, the desserts.  First, I got the flourless chocolate espresso cake.IMG_5830  It was like a slice of fudge that wasn’t as sugary and not as crumb based as a typical slice of cake.  This texture combined with the intense dark chocolate flavor with coffee hints in each forkful made it hard to beat, and the raspberry sauce was the icing on a cake without equal.  My other dining companions tried the creme brulee which looked lip-smacking good, but sadly I didn’t get to try it. IMG_5831 However, based on their gleaming white bowls at the end of the dessert course, I could only assume they liked it!

So if you want to try a slice of Chicago’s steak culture in the heart of the city, check out Capital Grille.
The Capital Grille on Urbanspoon

Costa Rica (Day 2)- Cruisin’ For Brews, Beans, and Bites

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As this Chicago winter rolls on, I seriously think that Janice and I brought back some of the sunny warm weather with us from Costa Rica.  Seriously, there has been little to no snow in Chicago, and I´m loving it!  However, today’s post is day 2 in my Costa Rica travelogue.  By the way, If you haven’t read day one on my blog, I highly suggest it if you are a seafood lover.

Anyway, day two kicked off with a classic Costa Rican breakfast that is a little bit different than the ol’ eggs, bacon, and pancakes as big as your face back in ‘Murika.  Instead, we were greeted with the quintessential Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto, tortillas, and two different types of plantains.   IMG_5097First, there is gallo pinto (“spotted/painted rooster” in Spanish) whose name is derived from the ingredients bearing a resemblance to a type of cockerel.  As for its origins, some believe the dish came over with the African slaves that migrated into Latin America while others believe it came from Spain where its known as cristianos y moros (Christians and Moors).  Whatever you call it, it was delicious.  It wasn’t heavy but very filling and flavorful.  I could see that it came from humble but rich roots with the black beans mixed in with the seasoned and fried rice.  It made a great filler for the tortillas on the side to make small breakfast burritos which do not exist in traditional Costa Rican fare (not every Latin American country has tacos and burritos!).  I do have to say that the Costa Rican tortillas were better than any of their Mexican counterparts I’ve tried.  They are both corn based, but the Costa Rican ones were super resilient compared to their relatives up north.  That scored big points on my foodie scorecard.  As for the two different plantains, there were both baked and fried varieties.  While down in Costa Rica, I also learned the difference between plantains and bananas, and it isn’t the difference in size.  While bananas can be eaten raw, plantains must be cooked if they are to be consumed by humans.  If I had to pick one or the other, the fried ones were my jam like during day one, and they were the ideal sweet compliment to the savory rice and beans.  Once we finished our breakfast to the tunes of a marimba band, we were off on a catamaran to Isla Tortuga on the Pacific coast.IMG_5096  What better to go with the pristine view of the Gulf of Nicoya than a cold, Costa Rican beer?  So, I got an Imperial which is the official beer of Costa Rica.  IMG_5103Once again, this supposed king of beers was a mere pretender to the throne.  It was an average, light lager that was crisp and non-offensive for a beautiful day.  Once we landed on the postcard that was Isla Tortuga, we enjoyed snorkeling, swimming, and some breathtaking views.  IMG_4022When it came time for lunch, it was anything but normal.  First, we were summoned to the feast via a conch shell.  Then we got a full salad bar that was freshly made in the kitchen hut.  The mixed salad was verdant and coated in a semi-sweet vinaigrette, but I was more partial to the cucumber and onion mix.IMG_4005  It was smooth and filled with some funky dill that made a potentially bland salad really pop.  IMG_4007IMG_4006The real star of the show though was the local peccary that Janice quickly made friends with.  Apparently this wild pig has been coming by the cookouts for over 15 years, and the marimba music was almost like its intro song.IMG_4010  It was very friendly and fell over whenever someone would pet it.IMG_5112  I could see that it was smarter than it looked since it worked the room by getting free food from each table.  Lunch was much more elaborate in the form of a full meat and veg platter complete with a Hibiscus flower for a flourish.  This meal didn’t even need a flower to be fancy and eye catching.  IMG_4014The chicken breast was muy sabroso  (very tasty) with just the right amount of char-grilled flavor to compliment the sweeter, coconut based curry sauce that had specks of the white fruit sprinkled on top.  The bread was warm and soft, but the butter was oddly bland.  I especially enjoyed the vegetable hash on the side that consisted of pan-fried carrots and cassava strands.  As for dessert, it was a rich but understated tres leches cake whose vanilla laced crumbs were topped with a drunkenly placed strand of whipped cream.IMG_4018  It, like most other Costa Rican meals, was fresh, filling, but not heavy like most American meals.  It gave us the energy to take on a lame banana boat ride and to savor the final views of that enchanting island that immediately made us realize of the beauty Latin America had to offer.IMG_5120

May the Odds (and Ends) Be Ever In Your Favor

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What is going on everybody?  Welcome to a slightly different Mastication Monologues where I will be bringing you a random smattering of unique foods that I have sampled in the past few weeks that you can’t get anywhere else and may have never seen before.  I’ll begin with cactus chocolate from Jeju.

The last weeks of the Korean school year shouldn’t even exist since the kids essentially tune out from anything and everything educational since there are no tests to study for.  This is something that all of those world education studies praising the Korean school system don’t mention.  However, my students also became really respectful towards me suddenly since they found out I was leaving.  Too bad they didn’t do it earlier in the year when we actually had to do work.  With this newfound respect came lots of candy as well which I wasn’t complaining about.  One of the trinkets that caught my eye was the brightly wrapped Jeju cactus chocolate.  IMG_1973

Jeju is an island off the southern coast of Korea, and is considered to be the Hawaii of Korea due to its beautiful sandy beaches, mountain climbing, and outdoor sex museum (wait, that’s not right…but it’s true for Jeju!).  Culinarily, they are known for their black pig barbecue and even horse meat, but throughout the year my kids would always give me Hallabong chocolate which was often in the shape of these mini-Easter Island-esque stone statues that dot the landscape around the island.  The Hallabong chocolate would often be infused with fruit flavors especially Jeju orange and sometimes raspberry.  However, I had never seen this crunch chocolate until last week, and what made it especially unique was the cactus element.  I knew that Jeju’s climate was warmer than Seoul’s, but are there really are cactii on this volcanic island?  When I unwrapped it, I was confronted with what seemed to be a naked Crunch bar with a moderate coating of pink chocolate. IMG_1974 When I bit into it, my assumption was confirmed as the small, crunchy orbs gave way to creamy raspberry chocolate.  Where the cactus element came into play was a mystery to me.  It was a sweet little treat though that I enjoyed a bit more than the next “sweet” thing I tried:  walnut cakes.

On the same day of my cactus chocolate adventure, I tried some interesting snacks that aren’t what they seem.  Turns out they’re cakes made to look like walnuts, and they do do quite an impressive walnut impression.IMG_2021  The exterior mimicked the deeply grooved facade of its namesake, but that’s where the similarities fade.  Actually, fade doesn’t do justice to describe the shock I received after biting into it.  Naturally, I was greeted with a big mouthful of my old nemesis:  red bean paste.

It shall forever haunt me.

It shall forever haunt me.

Koreans love the stuff, and I can’t stand it for the most part.  I’ve found that anything that you would assume would have chocolate in it in the West, i.e. pastries, rolls, buns, fudgsicles, instead has red bean paste in it in Korea.  It’s considered a “sweet” delicacy to Korean palates, but I come from the land of rampant diabetes, so the sweet factor is lost on me.  The dough itself is fine, and the crunch walnut in the center made up for the red bean paste that left me shaking my head once again.  I thought I learned my lesson after the red bean popsicle incident but apparently not.  I’ll close this semi-gross scene with a fun fact.  These walnut cakes were made by a bakery called Cocohodo which is based in Korea but also has branches throughout California in the United States.

I also finally managed to try 족발 or jokbal or pig’s feet.  I got a half spicy-half mild plate of pig feet which wasn’t what I expected since they carved all of the meat off the actual hooves even though some of the bones were still there.

Hog heaven

Hog heaven

The mild meat tasted like a cross between a glazed ham with the pork element, but the skin was carmelized which had a sweetness to it like Peking duck.  As for the spicy half, I was in heaven.IMG_2035  Some pieces were crispy like bacon while others had a more tender texture like pork chops, and the spiciness was around a jalapeno level with a sweet aftertaste which was probably due to the soy marinade.  I would have eaten more if it wasn’t for our teachers’ farewell dinner beforehand where my table consumed this bad boy below.  What a way to say “thank you” and “farewell”!1904234_3177324309091_1094229150_n

Also, I hadn’t mentioned this before, but check out my friend’s podcast I did a couple weeks ago.  Not only do I talk about my trip to North Korea, but also I elaborate on some of my best food adventures which I have detailed in Mastication Monologues!

Tokyo (Day 5)- A Sobering Soba Sayonara/Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

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Well, this is the final day of my Tokyo adventure in this food chronicle, but I finish it with the most unique dining experience I’ve ever been a part of.  However, I should start at the beginning  in the morning with my humble breakfast at the convienence store.

I seemed to have made friends at the local Mini Stop since they guided me to my favorite snack cake section they were actively stocking when I walked in the door.  So I wanted to get something a bit different to eat, so I plumped for a roll cake with a caveman on it along with an innocent looking bun.  However, turns out the more innocuous looking sweet bun ended up being filled with savory, cold curry.  Another wonderful adventure down Japanese Illiteracy Avenue!  It wasn’t terrible though as I finished it.  Thankfully, the caveman treat was a strawberry cream cake that was light, fluffy, and filling but probably terrible for my sugar levels.IMG_1858  It tasted great though.  To drink, I got a bottle of a drink called Lifeguard that looked like it was conceived by beverage promoters on a bad acid trip.  Not only did the psychedelic pattern and maniacal looking bunny in a car catch my eye, but it also boasted having plenty of “Royal Jelly”.

I don't think I'm ready for this jelly.

I don’t think I’m ready for this jelly.

  I remembered it being related to a Futurama episode where Fry, Leela, and Bender go to a killer space-bee hive to get honey, and Leela takes a baby queen bee and royal jelly back home to make more honey.  In reality, the royal jelly actually comes from the secretions of worker bees’ heads to nourish larvae and adult queens.  Nothing like some bee head jelly to get me buzzing in the morning.  It tasted great since it was like a green apple soda with small, rubbery chunks in it that left me energized to take on the rest of the day.  I hopped on the subway to the periphery of Tokyo to see many different sights which in turn left me with a Godzilla-sized hunger to take care of.  I made my way to Shinjuku because that is where I was going to have dinner at the famous Robot Restaurant that I’ll detail later in the post.  However, it was still around lunchtime, so I waltzed into a small, local eatery on a happening street in the center of Shinjuku. I noticed they had lots of different types of the traditional Tokyo soba noodles.IMG_1885  I saw they had a similar coin operated device like in Matsuya, and I matched up the symbols from the plastic display outside to the button on the dispenser. IMG_1884 After doing some research it seems I chose Tanuki soba or “Raccoon Dog Soba” when it came out to me.  I don’t know why it’s called after a mythical creature that is known for having mystical powers including using leaves to shape shift, fly, and have enormous testicles that bring good luck.  Ghostly sexual organs aside, the soba itself was wonderful and cheap.IMG_1883  The noodles were plentiful and a bit more al dente compared to the ramen noodles from dinner the previous night in Harajuku.  The fried tofu pieces were savory that complimented the salty broth perfectly.  Overall, it was a small piece of Tokyo history that was delicious, nutritious, and affordable.  After that meal, I wasted a bunch of time before going to the oddly named Robot Restaurant.  So I got a crepe that Wikitravel recommended to get either in Harajuku or Shinjuku, so I decided to see how they measured up to the French ones.IMG_1887  It was another encounter with my friend the coin-operated ordering machine, so I matched up the symbols to the Nutella and whipped cream crepe (second row from the top on the left).IMG_1886  I didn’t understand why they couldn’t just take my order or just write it on a piece of paper.  Work flow aside, the crepe was scrumptious and elegant. IMG_1888 The gossamer thin sheet of dough encased  a winter wonderland of snowy white whipped cream strewn about a generous slathering of chocotastic Nutella.  It was the perfect compliment to watching the anti-Shinzo Abe/Olympics march going down the street.  Eventually, I made my way to the Robot Restaurant which is located in Harajuku in the infamous Kabuchiko red light district.  So while I was walking there, I was accosted by numerous guys in suits asking if I wanted some action at a very steep price.  No, man!  I came here to see some crazy robot action with very attractive women dancing.  I highly recommend making reservations in advance, and if you sign up with a friend you get 50 percent off your 5000 Yen ticket.  I got there, and they had a complete robot band in the lobby rocking out with some tunes.IMG_3483  I was led up to the waiting lounge which was decked out in psychedelic paint everywhere, and each table had a robot dinosaur that would react to your actions.  If you made it angry, it would bite your finger, or it would sleep if you petted it on its head.IMG_1900IMG_1898  Eventually, they brought us down to the main theatre, and it seemed like the entire place was an epileptic seizure waiting to happen with all of the flashing lights, garish colors, and lasers everywhere.  We sat in rows with an aisle down the middle where all the action happened.  The bento box they provided was nothing worth mentioning.  It was mainly just baked chicken with some rice rolls and a small dessert.  However, the show was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.IMG_3489IMG_3543IMG_3545  So I’ll just let the main video from their website paint you a picture along with these videos I took (I apologize for the poor sound quality):  Oppa Gangnam Robot, Drummers, or The Natives Are Restless.   I could only describe it as a mix of traditional Japanese culture, a variety show, a burlesque show, Pokemon, Kung Fu Panda, LSD, and Gundams just to name a few.  It was a great way to end a trip that was filled with good people, great food, and unforgettable times.  I recommend you go to the Robot Restaurant over all other restaurants in Tokyo just to see the spectacle I will never forget.

My last culinary triste with Tokyo before going to the airport took the form of a chocolate version of the caveman cake above, but instead of bee head jelly, I got some fruit and salt juice. IMG_1904IMG_1903 It was a combination that somehow worked where the salt balanced out the sweetness of the pear juice.  However, I didn’t leave Tokyo with a figurative salty taste in my mouth as I truly fell in love with this city, and I hope to come back one day.

Got the Munchies?

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Hello everyone to another installment of Mastication Monologues!  Life continues in Korea, and I’m writing this since the weather is cold and wet outside.  I don’t think the seasons really know what they’re doing around here.  One day it’s sunny and warm and the next day it’s cold and wet.  Oh well, at least one thing has remained constant:  me trying new and crazy foods.  This post will talk about different odds and ends of Korean snacks I have tried since touching down here.  First, there are the items I have received from my teachers.

I’ll start with one food that my teachers have given to me in various forms, but I have yet to find one that really catches my fancy:  rice cake or tteok in Korean.  Obviously, rice holds a special place in Asian cuisine as a staple grain just like wheat and corn in the West, and therefore, there will be many different products made from it.  However, I have never tried so many different types of rice cake in my life.  It seems like there are as many varieties of rice cake as there are varieties of kimchi.  The rice cake is made by pounding sticky rice into a dough, mixing in various ingredients, and then portioning them out into more manageable to eat pieces.  One of the first types of rice cake I tried with my coteachers was coated in semi-dehydrated red beans.  It was dry, gummi, and tasted like bland beans…yummy.  On another day, I saw strange purple squares saran-wrapped on the table, and I found out that it was rice cake with cut almonds in it.  I took one bite, and it had a strange floral flavor that clashed with the almonds.

Very natural looking...

Very natural looking…

The only two types of rice cake that I actually enjoy are the black sesame coated type or one infused with raisins.  The black sesame powder one is quite expensive, but tastes like sweet sesame seeds.  As for the raisin tteok, the absence of flavor in the actual rice dough allows for the sweet raisins to really shine.  Overall, rice cakes have failed to grow on me as of right now.

Moving on to treats my teachers have given me that I actually enjoyed, I’ll start with the mystery 12 grain sticks.  One of my teachers who occupies a cubicle kiddie corner from me gave me a small foil package and said “For you”.  I looked at it, and it just said, “12 grains crispiroll.”IMG_0015  So I was expecting some sort of granola bar to emerge from the wrapper, but what I encountered was something completely different. IMG_0016 Instead of seeing a granular bar, I was greeted by a light yellow, crumbly tube.  I took a bite, and it was an interesting experience.  Not only was it crumbly, but the interior somehow seemed to be filled with some sort of cheese flavored substance I couldn’t see for the life of me.  It must have been hidden under the interior layer, but it was like eating a healthy version of cheese puffs.  Another great treat from my students was chalboribbang.

Although the name is somewhat long, these little sandwiches really hit the spot.  Our 5th graders took a trip to Gyeongju, and they came back with boxes of chalboribbang.IMG_0017  Apparently they are the region’s specialty and have been made since the Silla dynasty of Korea (57 BC to 935 AD).  The perfect combination of freshness and delicious taste explains why they have been around for millennia.  The small pancakes are made from barley and between the cakes is a sweet paste made from azuki beans.  They’re moist, chewy, and have a very slight maple syrup taste.IMG_0019  Perhaps that last part comes down to my love for pancakes, but chalboribbang pack a lot of quality flavor into a small package.  Finally, there are two small snacks I tried this weekend that I would like to comment on.

First there are the Doritos.  World recognized food brands adopt their flavors to suit the local population in order to boost sales and be respectful to their potential consumers if they have religious qualms with the ingredients.  Naturally, the Korean Doritos I picked out for our guys night seemed to be flavored like barbecue ribs since Koreans love to barbecue any type of meat.

Not all that and a bag of chips

Not all that and a bag of chips

However, they were a gigantic letdown in terms of flavor.  The chips were like back in the states in terms of size and texture, but the bold, savory barbecue flavor that is synonymous with a rack of ribs was severely lacking.  On the other hand, my friends took me to a shish-kabob place in Bupyeong in Incheon right outside of the club Shelter that brought both the flavor and the heat.

We had just finished our guys night at my friend Nate’s place, so we headed to Bupyeong to check out some new bars.  Instead, I ended up in front of this food truck that had a chef inside who was diligently pressing chicken skewers on the red hot griddle and slathering the piping hot meat in different sauces.

Poetry in motion in Bupyeong

Poetry in motion in Bupyeong

I was goaded into trying the “So Spicy” option, and I took it down no problem.  I’d liken the spiciness to probably a couple jalapenos consumed at once.  The chef saw that I finished it so quickly, so he decided to make a special sauce just for me.  He was laughing while putting chili powder and vinegar into a cup.  As he mixed it he said, “Ok I kill you”.  Culinary challenge accepted.  Eventually my skewer of death was finished, and I went to town on it.

I can play with fire and not get burned

I can play with fire and not get burned

The pieces of chicken were succulent and the green onions had a nice crunch to even out the chewy, grilled chicken.  As for the spiciness, it was more in the Habanero/scotch bonnet range.  As I was taking it down, other Koreans waiting for their skewers were staring at me like I was a supernatural being and wanted to know where I was from.  I finished my complimentary death skewer in no time, and the guy asked me if it was too much.  I said nope, and he smiled, nodded, and said, “You very strong”.  Got to love being able to consume spicy foods and make friends along the way.  Not too bad for only a $1.50.

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