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My Neighbor Tokoro

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Hello…helllooo..helloooooo….Is anyone still left out there that reads this blog?  It seriously has been way too long since I have posted any new content on Mastication Monologues, but such is the life of someone working on a 2nd Bachelor’s degree.  Thankfully, the light at the end of the tunnel is near, and I am looking forward to some mental rest and relaxation.  Thankfully, I won’t slack too much though because I have plenty of great reviews and food adventures to bring to you.  Today’s review involves Tokoro Sushi in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

My fiancee, then girlfriend, suggested we try the new eatery when it opened last year, and we have been back since.  However, our first visit wasn’t the most enjoyable compared to the second time.  There is mainly street parking and there are plenty of public transportation options for those of you rocking Ventra cards on the bus or L.  The interior of Tokoro looks like any other sushi restaurant complete with bamboo prints and assorted Japanese tchotchkes.  Fitting given the name of the restaurant in Japanese literally means “place”, i.e. this could be the interior of any of the other million, lower/middle rung Chicago sushi restaurants.  They have a BYOB policy and a free corkage service which helps if you care for a glass of chardonnay to go with your unagi.  Upon sitting down, we looked over their extensive sushi menu and saw most of the the typical Japanese restaurant offerings from lunch specials, soups, gyoza dumplings, sushi rolls, sashimi, and even hibachi offerings for diners searching for something a bit more substantial.  Janice and I preferred to try the figurative treasure chest of sushi that lay before  us in the menu, so we got the “all you can eat” sushi option for 20 bucks.  Some people always wonder or straight up deny that the all you can eat option is a waste of money, but when you think about it, there is some method to the madness.  Based on current trends of fishing, human consumption, and sushi demand from around the world, the price of fish, especially the fatty toro tuna, is only going to sky rocket.   Therefore, placing a cap on your wallet but not on your stomach makes perfect sense to me especially if you were as hungry as we were.  Then again, who knows if most sushi restaurants actually use the fish advertised on the menu.  The results are often times surprising.  Either way, that didn’t stop us from enjoying some good, not great sushi.  Thankfully, we got a complimentary bowl of miso soup which I think should come free with each meal in Japanese restaurants because it is such a simple but satisfying soup to make.  IMG_6101This traditional Japanese soup consists of a kelp/fish based broth and a soy based paste called, you guessed it, miso.  I have never seen it anywhere, but there are also red and mixed color miso pastes used in miso soup.  However, I greatly enjoy the white miso which is typically used in American Japanese restaurants because it is salty, savory, and has a taste that envelopes your entire body with a warmth that is enhanced with the soft cubes of tofu and slightly crunchy scallion strands.  Definitely great for the cold Chicago winters.  Once we drained our bowls, it was time to dive into our sushi.  Side note:  the service was absolutely terrible the first time around in terms of waiting for food, but thankfully they have improved their turnaround time from ordering to bringing out your order.  Our first platter consisted of the crazy tuna roll, spicy tuna roll, and mountain roll.IMG_6102

The crazy tuna roll, the one closest to the wasabi in the picture above, consisted of the rice rolled around a tuna and pepper mix and topped with slices of tuna and a sriracha chili sauce. IMG_6103 I didn’t find it to be too spicy, but it went down just fine.  The mountain roll was next which left the biggest impression on me for this round. IMG_6104 The inside was a cool cucumber and creamy avocado duo, but the real fire came from the spicy crab and spicy mayo on top that was festooned with a sprinkling of crunchy tempura crumbs.  I liked it the most out of the three selections due to the contrast between the relatively understated interior and the more eye-catching exterior.  Kind of a case of sushi superficiality, but this is a roll whose cover really makes the book a must read.  The same could not be said about the spicy tuna roll which was like the crazy tuna roll minus the “crazy” part. IMG_6105 I’m a big spicy food eater, and I didn’t think it lived up to its fiery moniker.  So it was not a big draw for me.  It was just a transition to the next sushi round we ordered.  We amped it up with a volcano roll, a kiss on fire roll, another mountain roll, and got some actual sushi on the side with a tomago, shrimp, and a piece of yellowtail.IMG_6106  I’ve already spoken about the mountain roll, but the volcano roll and kiss on fire roll were bolder than the first round participants.  The kiss on fire roll (between the raw fish and fried roll) did actually bring some spice since below the tuna there was a raw jalapeno pepper resting in wait for our unsuspecting taste buds.  I always like being kept off kilter sometimes during my dining experience, and I would recommend this roll for those who do like a bit of spice with their rolls.  Then there was the volcano roll.  Frying actual sushi is a crime against humanity, yet with rolls it kind of works.  The light, rice flour based batter goes well with the delicately constructed rolls, especially one that was bulging with spicy tuna, crab, avocado, cream cheese, and eel sauce and spicy mayo streaks across the sliced roll.  I think this was more of a luxury roll than a spice-centric entree due to the amount of ingredients that went into it.  I’d still recommend it though if you’re looking for a bit more heft to your typical sushi roll.  I did not have the tomago (egg) sushi, the shrimp, or the yellowfin, but Janice said they were all competently made but not mind-blowingly fresh/delicious.IMG_6107

So, if you’re looking for a solid, middle of the road sushi restaurant on the far northside of Chicago, roll on over to Sushi Tokoro!

Sushi Tokoro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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!

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