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Everything’s Coming Up Roses

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Well, the weeks in October are just flying by.  I can’t believe that October is almost finished, and Halloween is a week away.  My Game of Thrones costume idea has hit a snag, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out in time.  If not, I’m really in for a scare.  However, one eatery that is anything but scary is Rose Angelis in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago.10542851_686606968094365_102258942_n

Chicago has a mountain of Italian eateries that run the gamut from bare bones like Bombacigno’s to high end dining like at RPM, so choosing one is an easy task.  However, finding one with high quality food at low low prices is often times a difficult task.  Enter the aforementioned Rose Angelis.  I had never heard of this place before I was being whisked away to it with my girlfriend for her bday din din with her girlfriends.  The outside was simple yet elegant, and the inside was just the same.  As we walked through the establishment, it was furnished with paintings of Italian landscapes and small white lights.  The Christmas light motif was continued outside on the patio which set the scene for the perfect date night if you’re looking to do one next year (let’s be real, there’s nothing romantic about eating outside in the middle of a Chicago winter).  They were strewn overhead from one end to the other as we took in the atmosphere and the menu.  After ordering a bottle of rose and chianti, we got an order of antipasti in the form of the melanzane miniature alla parmigiana ($7.95) and the caprese roll. IMG_4229 The former translated to inglese is just eggplant Parmigiana or bascially baked slices of eggplant topped with marinara sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese.  While there was plenty to go around, I personally wasn’t wowed by this dish.  It was mostly well done aside from the eggplant which I thought was kind of on the mushy side instead of being firm yet tender. IMG_4230 I was more of a fan of the caprese roll since it combined fresh and slightly chewy buffalo mozzarella that then contained molto thin pieces of salty prosciutto and topped with basil leaves and a tart vinaigrette.  Then for my entree I ordered the pollo Florentino (chicken Florentine) ($19.95).  This dish was the embodiment of the abbondanza Italian food culture, i.e. lots of food=lots of love. IMG_4231 The two hulking panko-coated chicken breasts were napping on a puffy bed of risotto surrounded by semi-spicy marinara sauce.  When I cut into these giant piece of poultry, the provolone and spinach flowed forth like a rich artery-clogging river of deliciousness.IMG_4232  It was quite decadent, and if you aren’t super hungry, don’t expect to finish this meal in one sitting.  You will need a doggie bag…or two.  However, even though it was a giant plate, that doesn’t mean that the quality suffered.  The chicken was high quality and the risotto was delectable when combined with the marinara that had more of a smoky flavor than spicy.  As if that wasn’t enough, since it was my girlfriend’s birthday, they brought out a slice of cheesecake to celebrate.IMG_4234  I had a tiny forkful, but it was molto bene, i.e. just the right amount of creamy and cool cheese with crumbly but firm cinnamon infused crust.

In closing, Rose Angelis is one of those small Italian restaurants you’ve never heard of but with plenty of larger than life flavors and portions for great prices.  I highly recommend Rose Anglelis to anyone who loves Italian food and/or is looking for a romantic dinner date place.
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Taiwan (Finale)- I Got Too Ducked Up/In the End, Everyone Pies

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Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I am presenting the final chapter in my food travel series where I manage to go out in true foodie style with some very visceral cuisine.  I started the day with a pretty laid back lunch with Christie at the department store right by Taipei Main Station on the MTR.

While we were perusing the food court, I didn’t know where to turn first since everything looked so delicious, but I wanted to get something that I couldn’t get in Korea.  Having the sweet tooth that I do, I was drawn in by a lit up glass case that contained about 20 different kinds of pies at a stall called Rose Pie.IMG_0952  Trying to find legit bakery in Korea is quite hard to do, so I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip through my fingers while abroad.  I wanted to try them all, but I saw one that caught my eye that I thought was some sort of chocolate and peanut butter pie.  After Christie asked the girl behind the counter what kind it was, turns out it was my old nemesis:  red bean.  I shall never escape this crimson fiend!  So after I dodged that pitfall, we got a slice of lemon poundcake pie and plain cheesecake.IMG_0953IMG_0954  The pound cake was interesting because it was made like pie in a tin yet the contents were light and filled with tart lemon notes along with subtle sugar notes.  As for the cheesecake, it was heaven.  The body was softly whipped into a moderately sized slice of cream cheesy goodness.  The only downside from our dessert experience were the forks that were severely undersized to cut through the thick bottom crusts on the slices.  I also got a cup of classic iced boba tea with extra tapioca bubbles since Taiwan is the home to this refreshing beverage.

Blast in a glass

Blast in a glass

I knew I came to the right place as the tea itself was milky yet sweet, and the bubbles were there in force and extra chewy.  I’m all about experiencing different textures, and this drink fit the bill.

Now, we were meeting up for lunch, and we started off with dessert.  Strange, don’t you think?  However, that didn’t stop us from eating in reverse order as Christie took me to another small hole-in-the-wall place that specialized in two Taiwanese specialities:  臭豆腐 or stinky tofu and  蚵仔麵線 or oyster vermicelli.

No frills dining at its finest

No frills dining at its finest.  We ate all the way in the back through the door on the right hand side.

First, there is the stinky tofu.  You don’t have to be a genius to wonder why it’s called “stinky”.  Just walking past restaurants or street vendors who were hawking small deep-fried nuggets of the bean curd made me wonder if I briefly fell into an open cesspool based on the smell.  I got a good whiff as soon as I walked in the door to the main part of the restaurant as its pungent odor attacked my nostrils.  We were led to a smaller back dining room that was enclosed with just some clear heavy-duty plastic sheets that could be found being used as butcher shop doors.  We ordered a plate of deep fried stinky tofu to share and our own bowls of the intestine vermicelli.  IMG_0955When the tofu came out, it didn’t smell as bad as when we first walked in, but with my first mouthful, I could taste the rank, semi-putrid funk of this overly ripened tofu.  However, it went great with the soy sauce.  As for the vermicelli, it was different since there were pieces of pig intestine in the soup instead of oysters which are normally served with this dish.  I found that I preferred the vermicelli over the tofu due to its heartiness and rich, meaty flavor from the intestines.  The thin noodles also were great because they snuggled into the gentle curves of my spoon quite easily which made chopsticks unnecessary, always a good day in my book.  It’s not that I can’t use them, but rather I just think the spoon is much more versatile in terms of eating a wide variety of foods both solid and liquid.  It was great sitting cheek to jowl with the locals and soaking in the atmosphere while the latest Pink single was bumping on the stereo.  Hooray for globalization!  After that filling lunch and a long afternoon of sightseeing, we went to my friend David’s and Christie’s grandparents’ house for one last meal together.

When I got there, it was a simple apartment, but I could already smell what Po-Po (grandma) was cookin’, and it only heightened my anticipation.  We were also graced with Mr. Wu’s presence; hence, we were being treated to Po-Po’s famous chicken soup among many other things.

A feast of the roundtable

A feast of the roundtable (going counterclockwise): cooked whole shrimp, stewed fish with marinade, duck and beef slices, a bowl of tripe and intestines, a plate of fresh bamboo, some mixed greens, and the cucumber segments.

She told me through Mrs. Wu interpreting that the whole chicken was prepared and stewed in the stock for over three days.  I helped myself to a bowl of this homemade blend, and it was hands down the best chicken soup I’ve ever had.  I mixed in some white rice to soak up more of the slightly salty but bursting with flavor broth, and I really liked the sliced potatoes because they were tender enough that you didn’t even need a knife to cut them.  They were like small white icebergs bobbing in a sea of delectable ambrosia.  In addition to a couple bowls of soup, I got my fair share of meat with slices of beef, duck, beef tripe, and pork intestines.  All of them were cooked to excellence, and the tripe was the most interesting just because it looked like it had little spines from the inside of the stomach.  I also had my first experience with eating whole shrimp.  I had to take the shell off with my hands and devour the sweet pink flesh inside.  Then the piece de resistance was sucking out the fat and brains from the shrimp head.  I could see why Mrs. Wu told me this was the best part since it was like taking a shot of butter to go along with your cooked shrimp.  Then there was the stewed red snapper that apparently was the object of desire when Mrs. Wu and Mr. Ni were kids.  They know good food because the flesh was extremely tender, but you had to be careful to de-bone each piece of its needle thin bones.  I managed to do it with chopsticks, so I think I’ve reached Mr. Miagi level of proficiency.  The flesh was only enhanced with the soupy gravy that surrounded the fish since it soaked up all of the extra flavors and spices from the cooked fish to create a hyper-concentrated marinade that could be considered a type of controlled substance it was that addictive.  Now I wasn’t a complete caveman with eating just meat this meal.  I actually enjoyed pickled fresh cucumber pieces that had a sweet, vinaigrette zing as I popped each crunchy segment into my maw.  I also saw a plate of what looked like cubes of potatoes or apples, but it turned out to be pieces of fresh chopped bamboo.  I didn’t know what to expect taste-wise, but I was greeted with a cool, crisp almost neutral taste that leaned ever so slightly towards a red delicious apple flavor.  It was Mr. Wu’s favorite dish, and he showed me that it went well with a dab of mayo.  He showed me the light as the eggy/semi-salty mayo balanced out the lighter pieces of bamboo.  They saw I was still a little hungry, so they brought out the big guns to really see what I could eat.  First, they gave me a dark piece of food that looked like a thick stick bent at a 45 degree angle, and it turned out to be a duck wing.  It had a smoky, bbq taste, but there wasn’t much meat on it.  Then they threw down the gauntlet when they gave me a thin, semi-elongated piece of meat that seemed to be filled with ridges, nooks, and crannies.

What is it?

What is it?

I started gnawing on it, and found this mystery food to be quite bony and filled with cartilage.  My hosts then informed me I was eating a duck’s head, and I should flip it over.  I  followed their instructions, and I was shocked to find my food starting back at me with one black glazed eye.

O hai!

O hai!

That didn’t stop me though from stripping it of the little tender meat still sticking to the cranium along with a piece of tongue.  The best part of the head was actually the eyeball since it was oddly creamy and had a decadent buttery flavor to it.  Once everyone was finished with their extravagant meals.  We had a simple dessert of Chinese and Korean pears and the more bizarre yet awesomely named dragon eyes.  They were similar to lychees, but the insides were clear and jelly-like minus the lychee red juice that stains your fingers when cracking through the outer shell.  The taste I could only liken to some sort of fruity version of a walnut which may have been influenced by the large pit in each small capsule.  With the last slice of pear gone and the final dragon eye cracked, I bid farewell to my lovely hosts.  I will never forget their hospitality as I was brought into their house as a guest and part of the family.  Looking back, my vacation was a hell of a ride, but I never forgot to stop and smell the roses and perhaps eat some if they were stinky or different enough.  Never stop traveling and pushing your own boundaries.

The Cape of Great Food

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be bringing you a bit of the Rainbow Nation, a.k.a. South Africa,in the form of the restaurant  Braai Republic.  Here’s how to get there:  Come out of exit 4 of Itaewon Stn. (line 6), walk straight and turn left at the alley just before the McDonald’s. Go through the intersection, past the Juliette clothing store, and Braai Republic is on your left on the second floor.IMG_0543

When we first arrived on a Saturday evening around 6:30 pm, we were greeted with a wall of people in the establishment.  Little did we know that Saturday evenings was the worst time to come and eat.  So instead of my entire group of friends coming to eat with me, it just ended up being my one friend, Aaron, and I sharing a table with another American couple since it was so crowded.

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

I personally enjoyed this aspect of the restaurant because it encouraged more socialization over the meal.  A welcomed change from most restaurants where diners are more engrossed in Instagramming their food and ignoring the person they’re sitting with.  I definitely had my cell phone away as I was soaking in the South African inspired decor like the zebra skins on the wall, a rugby match on the tv, and the extremely enthusiastic South African owner who was called everyone, “Bru” while making sure they were having a good time.

Is it black with white stripes or white with black stripes?

Is it black with white stripes or white with black stripes?

I felt like I was in Blood Diamond with Danny Archer.  Leo references aside, I scanned the menu and decided to get the Hunter’s Gold cider (5,000 Won) along with the oxtail potjiekos (11,000 Won) (pronounced “poy-kos”).  A lot of the other options were meat centered like lamb chops and meat pies and for good reason.  The name of the restaurant, “Braai Republic” references the South African tradition of grilling meat.  The word “Braai” in Afrikaans means “grill”.  However, there still are some veggie options like various types of mashed potatoes, cole slaw, and pap which is like polenta.  I didn’t know what to expect from the meal, so I was quite intrigued when my plate came out.

On it was a pile of plain mashed potatoes, orange and white cole slaw, and a small black pot which I naturally concluded was my potjiekos (in Afrikaans, it means “small pot food”).IMG_0548  When I opened it up, I was face to face with a whole lot of meat. IMG_0549 A potjikos is a remnant from the Afrikaaner frontier culture where they would stew different vegetables, cuts of meat, and bones together in a pot at the end of each day after exploring the South African wilderness.  I could definitely taste the rustic origins when I finally tucked into it as I was greeted with extremely tender pieces of ox tail mixed in with bone shards.  Take your time when eating this dish because you might swallow a bone if you’re not careful.  I also stumbled upon the occasional potato lurking below the savory broth like some sort of delicious starchy manatee.  If you’re a traditional meat and potatoes kind of person, this restaurant would be your Valhalla (a viking heaven but with funnier accents and more barbecue).  Even though I was going to town on my pot of ox, I tried a bit of my table mate’s lamb pie.  I would get that in a heartbeat next time I came to Braai Republic.  Then I tried my sides.  The mashed potatoes were severely disappointing.  True, the texture was just short of creamy, but they were extremely bland.  I can’t stress this enough even when I put salt and pepper on it.  The cole slaw was also quite pedestrian, but then again, I’m not the biggest proponent of cole slaw.  Thankfully, the potjiekos was quite filling and made up for the side order of mediocrity.  The Hunter’s cider was alright as a beverage to the meal, but it was a bit too sweet for my liking.  However, I wasn’t prepared for the greatness for dessert.IMG_0547

My friend Aaron had been raving for the longest time about their cheesecake, so I was naturally obliged to try it.  With my pie-in-the-sky expectations, this cake didn’t disappoint.IMG_0550  It was topped with caramel that was sweet yet slowly developed a more intense flavor with an almost coffee-esque flourish with every bite.  Then there was the actual cake which was light and fluffy.  It wasn’t dense like traditional cheesecake but rather had a whipped consistency that didn’t leave me feeling stuffed at the end of the meal.  The crust was a bit more straight forward forming a solid crumb base for the amazing flavor dance party going on above it.

In the end, if you love meat dishes or are just looking to try some of the best cheesecake around, I highly recommend Braai Republic.

Happy trails, Voortrekkers!

Happy trails, Voortrekkers!

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