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Off Cue

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Welcome to Mastication Monologues, one and all!  If you’re new to this site, I am a world traveler and eater who posts about my adventures in restaurants and life through witty and delectable anecdotes.  If you’re a returning fan, thank you for keeping up with my blog even though it has been on pause again.  This time it’s due to the Thanksgiving holiday season and transition to another university teaching gig, but that doesn’t mean that my food forays have ceased by any stretch of the imagination.  Today’s post is about Q-BBQ, a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to the smoked and savory stuff.

There are lots of different branches for this barbecue joint throughout the Chicagoland area, but I went to the La Grange location.  It is quite pleasant in the summer since they have the patio open for diners along with seating inside if the sun and the Q-Style sauces get too hot to handle. q-bbq-lagrange-il-537x489 Looking over the menu, they boasted a wide variety of meats ranging from pulled pork to wings which are prepared with a 13 spice blend and smoked up to 22 hours over hickory and apple wood.  So I could see that they talked the talk, but could they walk the walk?  My mom eventually settled on a basic pulled pork sandwich with a side of mashed potatoes and the complimentary hushpuppies ($7.99).  As for me, I got a brisket sandwich Q-style which meant that in addition to the sauce and meat, I got a helping of Q slaw and blue cheese crumbles on top, and for the side I had cornbread.

We took our seat outside on the patio since it was still a warm and enjoyable late summer day in Chicagoland which seems like a pleasant, distant memory now that the freeze of winter has set in.  Eventually, our food was brought out to us, and it looked delicious.  However, I wasn’t that impressed.  I’ve had barbecue in the Carolinas and Memphis, and this was a pale comparison to those respective grilling styles.  I felt that Green Street Smoked Meats in the West Loop in Chicago even did a better job.  Why did Q BBQ not measure up to my other barbecue experiences?  Easy, the meat. IMG_4251 I felt like my brisket was rubbery, semi-tasty but not bursting with flavor, and covered up by the cole slaw and blue cheese crumbles.  I even had a bite of my mom’s pulled pork sandwich, and it was a shrug of the shoulders from my stomach. IMG_4249 It had a supposed North Carolina vinegar sauce slathered all over its porky interior, but I didn’t taste one bit of the sour tang from this Southern thang.  As for the sides, the mashed potatoes were admirable with their beef based gravy with a bit of spice to liven up an average meal. IMG_4248 The cornbread was dry and uninspiring, and the hushpuppies were mediocre.

Even the mustard sauce couldn't cut it

Even the mustard sauce couldn’t cut it

Instead of being light balls of fried dough, they were dry and crumbly which left my big dog of a stomach woofing for something tastier.   I don’t think the taste of each item fully justified the price they charged.

So if you’re looking for some delicious barbecue, I would look elsewhere in the Chicagoland area.  Q BBQ will just leave you with more Qs than As.

Q BBQ on Urbanspoon

Throwback Post: Chocolatería San Ginés in Madrid

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Bienvenidos y welcome to Mastication Monologues!  If you’re reading this, you’ve finally reached the end of my throwback Europe series.  We’re touching down in the heart of the Iberian peninsula in the ageless city of Madrid.

Home to the Spanish government and monarchy, Madrid is the imposing and more regal version of Spain’s more laid back second city, Barcelona.  Everywhere my friend Kevin and I turned, we were confronted with another piece of history.  Royal palace?  Check.1930504_1100433668123_5085_n  El Prado Art Museum?  Check.  El Parque de Buen Retiro?  Double check. 10400831_1100124860403_5015_n 10400831_1100124220387_9578_n 10400831_1100124380391_983_nI especially enjoyed the park because it offered a bit of relaxation in a city that is mostly business-minded.  Not only are there plenty of open lawns and large trees, but the main fountain in the middle of the park was the best because you can rent rowboats for an hourly fee.  It was nice to just sit on a bench and take in the more leisurely pace of life in Spain where families were out on paseos (after meal walks) and the old timers were arguing about the superiority of Los Colchoneros vs Los Merengues over some coffee.  One of the best places outside of the city that I’d recommend visiting is El Escorial. n1145100159_31215923_1194 It was commissioned by Felipe II to be a royal palace and a symbol of Catholic strength in the face of the rising wave of Protestantism.  The palace’s design is particularly interesting  since it was designed with a grid floor plan to pay homage to the red hot griddle that Saint Lawrence was burned to death on.  From the halls gilded with gold mined from New World mines to the exquisitely carved statues in the Court of Kings, it was a royal palace without equal.n1145100159_31215937_5529  While I did try some delicious tapas throughout my stay in the city, the star of the food show took the form of churros at Chocolatería San Ginés located at Pasadizo de San Gines, 5, 28013, Madrid.san-gines chocolateria-san-gines-_328091 What are churros?  Churros are basically pieces of fried dough that are often long and thin.  From there, chefs have given their own twist on them which have included:  plain, coated with cinnamon-sugar, coated in chocolate, coated in chocolate and filled with caramel, or coated in chocolate and filled with custard.  At Chocolatería San Ginés the churros are served plain with a cup of chocolate on the side for dipping. Chocolate_con_churros_-_San_Ginés_-_Madrid This churro shop has been open since 1894, and it has been a favorite hangout for night owls and club goers who want something sweet and greasy to fill them up before going home.  I just stumbled upon it through pure chance during a normal night after dinner, and I never forgot the first time I bit into one of the golden wands of magical fried dough.  They were substantial, light, and fresh out of the fryer.  I could have eaten them without the chocolate due to their subtle buttery base common to many fried dough treats, but the warm melted milk chocolate took this dessert to another level.  I was communing with San Lorenzo, San Gines, and the rest of the culinary saints by the end of the heavenly plate.  It was a perfect end to my visit to the Spanish capital, and a heavenly denouement to this throwback series.10400831_1100123420367_3194_n  I hope you enjoyed reading this European adventure as much as I had writing it.

Happy Is the Stomach That Wears the Crown

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Well, the summer is just rolling by, and the weather is getting as wild as some of the food adventures on which I’m embarking.  Today’s post is another addition to my already extensive Far East collection of restaurant reviews, but it serves up some new dishes that I’ve never tried before.  While I’ve experienced some dim sum that has been out of this world, I’m always up for trying novel places like Triple Crown in Chicago’s Old Chinatown.

I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about this location from my friends who are of Chinese/Taiwanese ancestry since some have said that they’ve sold out to Western tastes while others have conjectured that they still keep it old school with some of their menu selections.  Adventure time!  I went there with my girlfriend since we had a craving for dim sum, and luckily, they indulged us in the afternoon when other diners only serve the Chinese version of tapas at night. IMG_3682 After scaling the stairs, we were greeted with a spacious dining hall that was sparsely populated, but I’m sure come dinner time it would be packed.IMG_3681  It was tastefully decorated but unusually warm as if the air conditioning didn’t work, clearly an air conditioning repair is in order.  It didn’t help they gave us hot tea to drink upon sitting down.  While living in Korea, I learned the best method for allegedly cooling down is to consume hot food and drinks in order to make it not seem as sweltering outside…it doesn’t work for me, but who knows?  So we looked over the dim sum menu, and it was quite minuscule compared to the selection at other competitors.  Triple Crown’s normal entree menu is quite encyclopedic though ranging from fried rice and orange chicken to more old-school dishes like tripe and duck tongues.  We saved those options for another day though.  After picking a smattering of dim sum plates, we waited for about 20 minutes for the first wave to emerge.   We were greeted by three steamed char siu barbecue pork buns and three scallion and shrimp cakes.  I started with the bbq pork buns since I love pork and savory sauces.IMG_3683  The chewy, white exterior gave way to a blood red interior that immediately gave me a minor case of the meat sweats.  The pork was tender and slathered in a semi-sweet yet tangy sauce. IMG_3685 I still think they could have been better with a meat to bread ratio that leaned toward the former rather than the latter, but I did enjoy them from the first to the last gooey bite.  As for the shrimp and scallion cakes, they were much more interesting since the delicate, translucent covering gave way to a plethora of verdant onions that provided a real pep to the chunks of plain shrimp. IMG_3684IMG_3686 I like my shrimp, but the scallions were the only saving grace of this dim sum choice since the shellfish weren’t even seasoned.  While we were gobbling down the first wave, the second installment invaded our table with a trio of fried sesame balls and a quartet of siu mai/shumai dumplings.  I’ll start with the latter first since they have an interesting background.  While many scholars contend that these uniquely shaped dumplings originated in Inner Mongolia, they quickly became associated with Cantonese cuisine in the West due to this population’s mass diaspora throughout Europe and America.  In Chinese, “shumai” literally means “to buy and sell”, and while we did buy them, I wasn’t completely sold on them. IMG_3688 The outer dough was chartreuse, but didn’t bring much to the table (pun intended) in terms of flavor.  On the other hand, the interior was adequately prepared.  It seemed to be a mix of pork seasoned with soy sauce and ginger that reminded me of a Swedish meatball sans sauce.  Nothing really mind blowing though even with the generous helping of orange fish roe atop the meat like an ill-fitting ginger toupee.  Our meal took a turn for the better with the fried sesame buns.  IMG_3687While they did contain a hefty helping of one of my few bugbears in Far Eastern cooking, sweet red bean paste, I loved the copious amounts of savory sesame seeds that jived all meal long with the crunch exterior encasing a chewy rice cake interior.  I hated eating plain rice cake or “tteok” in Korea, but the Chinese managed to find a way to make it much more palatable.  I’d highly recommend these if you’re looking for a dim sum plate that has great textural and taste variety.  As we were working on this penultimate round of dishes, the piece de resistance emerged:  the chicken feet.  While they’re more commonly known as “phoenix talons” in Chinese, these chicken feet are another one of my must-have’s when going out for dim sum.  While most people, including my girlfriend, are disgusted at the sight of me chomping on the chickens’ tootsies, they’re truly missing out a delicious delicacy. IMG_3689 The feet are boiled, deep fried, and then seasoned with a black bean sauce that is sweet with a hint of spice.

Getting cold feet.  Hiyo!

Getting cold feet. Hiyo!

I’m not going to say that it’s for everyone since there are a lot of bones and cartilage to deal with and not a ton of meat, but what meat there is, it’s mind blowingly tender along with the slightly crispy skin.  IMG_3762It’s a mind over matter sort of choice, but you’d be crazy not to try it.

By the end of the meal, we were stuffed and paid only 20 bucks total for two people for a ton of good food.  While I’ve been spoiled by dim sum restaurants overseas or other local establishments with bigger menus, I’d still recommend Triple Crown if you’re looking for a new Chinatown eatery or even want to try dim sum for the first time.

Triple Crown Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Ssam Bap A Lup Bop Wop Bam Boom

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  If you’re thoroughly confused about my title, it’s a reference to “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard and one of the many foods I tried over this past weekend in Gyeongju.  It was a great time where not only did I enrich myself in terms of friendships but also in food knowledge.  Gyeongju is located in the southern part of the Korean peninsula, and we were going there by bus to see the cherry blossoms.  Ergo, we stopped at Korean rest stops along the way to stretch and get the old bones moving again.

I soon realized that Korean rest stops are a lot more intense than rest stops in the US.  First, there are so many different types of shops in these places.  Not only are there vending machines with every type of item from coffee to sunglasses, but they even sell jewelry and CDs outside in hawker stalls.  However, I was not there to buy a techno remix of Gangnam Style nor get a brand new pair of knock off Oakleys.  I was more interested in perusing the wide variety of Korean fast food each shop was offering.  Naturally, there were a lot of fish products, but I saw something that perhaps was a bit of Konglish.  It was a food labelled, “Hot Dog Pizza”.  Now, coming from Chicago where we do both of those foods right, I was curious to see what the Koreans meant when they decided to put these two delicious items together.IMG_0036  Turns out, there was nothing even remotely resembling a hotdog or a pizza involved in the snack.  It was about a six-inch long tube of crunchy, fried, bread-crumb encrusted outside. IMG_0037 Then, I bit into a gooey center that did not contain a sausage of any kind.  Instead, I was met with a slightly more viscous sauce that I could only liken to a Chinese-American sweet and sour sauce.  It went well with the fried dough (as most fried things are inherently delicious) and left me satisfied.

After we got to Gyeongju, we biked around the city for a couple of hours which led to us working up quite an appetite.  So, we piled onto the bus for a ssam bap dinner.  We weren’t sure what exactly constituted this meal, but thanks to our rudimentary Korean skills we at least knew that it contained rice because of the word “bap”.  However, almost every Korean meal comes with rice, so it didn’t help us that much.  When we arrived and sat down, we were immediately face to face with the international food of mystery.IMG_1399  The ssam bap meal consisted of galbi and chicken mixed with various types of leafy green vegetables and grilled in a big metal bowl in the middle of our table.  Once it was fully cooked, we took the meat and rolled it up in the lettuce and pepper leaves that were provided to us on the side along with other types of banchan like the omnipresent kimchi, sour bean paste, pickled radishes, a green salad with sweet sesame dressing, and seaweed soup to name a few. IMG_1398 I should have had more rice, but I was still hungry after the meal.  However, it was more of a case of quality over quantity as the semi-spicy chili sauce the chicken was marinated in really brought some intense savory flavors rushing over my palate.  It was countered with the smooth, cool texture of the lettuce leaves.  While this dinner seemed par for the course in terms of Korean dinner, what I ate the next morning was anything but normal.

We rose early to a drizzly morning, but we still decided to see the grotto to see a giant carved Buddha statue.  As we were walking back from the amazing sanctuary, I saw people in my group were getting corn dogs and hot dogs.  I, being the natural weirdo that I am, saw beondegi in a pot next to the tube steaks everyone else was buying.  You might be wondering what beondegi is, and it is not for the squeamish.IMG_1450  It ‘s boiled silkworm pupae or little worm babies in layman’s terms.  I don’t know if I’m foolish, crazy, and/or brave, but it was an interesting experience.  They were a little bigger than kidney beans and possessed an amber hue.  I popped them into my mouth, and their exoskeletons were crunchy. IMG_1448 The insides were the tough part to stomach because texture-wise they were like smooth mashed potatoes, but the taste was somewhat overwhelming.  It tasted like hay smell mixed with manure mixed with a slight nutty undertone.  I’m glad I didn’t buy a whole cup of these little buggers, but it was worth the experience like the whole weekend making unforgettable memories.

A Slice of the East

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Hello everyone out there on the interwebz.  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues where I have been, as of late, exploring all the new foodstuffs that South Korea has to offer.  Today I will be talking about a Far Eastern twist on a Western favorite:  pizza.  As with many things in the world, pizza has an unusual history in the sense that most people associate the main staple of college students with one country (Italy) when it actually came from a different one (China).  Many historical scholars argue that Marco Polo allegedly brought it back from China and introduced it to the Italian peninsula which eventually led to the modern pie being invented in Napoli.  Where I come from, Chicago, we have a special affinity for this Italian/Chinese treat which has led us to bump heads with New Yorkers over who has better pizza.  Therefore, when I stepped into Pizza Maru in my neighborhood of Seo-gu, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of toppings.  I was greeted by different Korean combinations like sweet potatoes and bacon or thin cream shrimp pizza.  I went for the latter since it just seemed like a bizzare description, but I was pleasantly surprised.IMG_1277  It was made with very thin and crispy crust that supposedly has 12 types of grains, black rice, and green tea.  The toppings consisted of grape tomatoes, black olives, shrimp, cheese, oregano, and an alfredo-esque sauce.  However, it was different from a typical pizza because it didn’t have tomato sauce but rather some sort of clear sauce that really didn’t taste like anything.  It brought down the very flavorful pizza because it made the slices semi-soggy which is not a good attribute to have if your end pieces are nice and crispy.  Overall, it was an okay pizza, but I don’t really see it giving European/American pizza a run for its money anytime soon.  At least the presentation was a lot nicer than back at home.IMG_1276

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