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You Can Bring a Horse to Water, But He’d Prefer a Burger (Au Cheval)

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I never thought that I would be back this soon, this deep into the jungle that is graduate school at Northwestern University, but here I am!  Back for a limited time on Mastication Monologues, but hopefully I will be able to write more once this mad quarter is finished.  This year has been flying by, and I have visited and eaten at tons of great locations across Chicagoland.  However, today’s review involves a restaurant/diner known best for its hotly-touted cheeseburger.  In a foodie city like Chicago where we love our meat based dishes, especially hamburgers, the previous sentence will elicit a different response almost every time you ask someone from Chicago depending on where they are living in the city.  We even have the Billy Goat Diner made famous by Saturday Night Live and a curse featuring a certain Northside team that is currently trying to break the same curse and win the World Series.  Go Cubbies!  Yet, Au Cheval is one of the most highly regarded establishments across the city when it comes to the signature American dish of cheeseburger and fries. (Quick note:  Two other great restaurants, Cochon Volant and Small Cheval, have similar burgers minus the typical long lines)

Located on Randolph Street in the West Loop/Fulton Meat Packing District a.k.a. Google Headquarters new backyard, it is the flagship on a block of heavy culinary hitters including Stephanie Izzard’s so-famous-you-need-reservations-six-months-ahead-of-time Girl and the Goat  (highly recommend this restaurant too).  Au Cheval is relatively new in a city of numerous old establishments that have withstood the test of time, and based on our experience, there exists the distinct possibility that this burger joint might become part of the city’s fabric if it hasn’t already.  Janice and I met up with our friends Katelin and Dan for lunch.  They have metered street parking that we took advantage of, or you can reach it by taking the L (subway for you non-Chicagoans).  It is a very popular eatery if you couldn’t tell based on my description before, and they do not take reservations.  Because of this fact, it is often subject to mob scenes of people lining up outside during peak lunch and dinner hours to sample their offerings.  Luckily, we managed to beat the lunch rush and were immediately seated in their slightly dim, modern diner. img_9045 As I surveyed the tiny interior, I wasn’t blow away by my surroundings, but I’m a gourmand, not an interior designer.  img_9024Dan and I started the meal off with their Mad Town Nut Brown that was dark, had 7 different malts, and had nice hazelnut notes. img_9026 Au Cheval also offers a wide variety of mixed drinks, shots, and non-alcoholic beverages.  Food-wise, I could describe them as a very upscale diner that managed to find a twist on simple creations like bologna sandwiches or scrambled eggs served with fois gras. img_9025 Breakfast offerings aside, Janice and I were there for the burger that has been proclaimed by the Food Network, Forbes, etc. as “The Best Burger in America” for multiple years. They had a single ($10.95) or double patty ($12.95) option for an upcharge as well as the egg and bacon.  We followed Dan’s advice for choosing the double patty with egg and bacon.  He followed suit, and Katelin ordered the raw vegetable salad with apple and blue cheese ($10.95).  Surprisingly, before you could say “Da’ Bears”, our burgers were in front of us in their full glistening glory as well as a side of fries. img_9036

Our taste buds are ready

Our taste buds are ready

First, let’s discuss the much talked about burger.img_9032  Now, I am not typically a fan of the egg-on-burger trend that has been sweeping America, but visually this fried egg seemed like a work of pure art with its off-center sun in the sumptuous solar system of flavors in front of me.  Plus, if an egg is on top of a burger, it is described as being “on horseback” hence the name of the restaurant being “Au Cheval”.  Then there was the slabs of pure pork that were stacked like massive redwood planks over two serious beef patties donning flowing robes of American cheese.  The Eastern European side of me also appreciated the dill pickle spear on the side to cut through the grease.  Once I stacked it all together, it was a soaked monument to gastronomic greatness.  img_9040I hefted this sandwich to my maw and was immediately drawn into the aromas of beef and sweet pork belly like bees to honey.  I was smitten at first chomp.  The beef was grilled to medium rare perfection while the cheese was omnipresent yet not overwhelming.  I was partial to the pork belly that shone through and enhanced the flavor profile with a maple syrupy sweetness that your run-of-the-mill, crispy, thin bacon could not accomplish in a million dinner parties.  The only downsides to this burger were the aforementioned egg which kind of made the brioche bun hard but not impossible to grip, and the bottom part of the bun which left my burger hanging by my fingertips  at the end of this white-knuckle ride of a meal.  The fries on the side were just as great as the burger with a palatable amount of salt and just the right amount of fry to their golden hued exteriors.img_9027  Katelin said her salad was delectable too even though it wasn’t served between two pieces of bread or hiding beneath a sea of gooey cheese.img_9029  A good option if you want to balance your cholesterol out after downing one of Au Cheval’s incredibly rich burgers.

We left the restaurant to a sunny afternoon with bellies full and greatly satisfied.  I could now see what the hubbub was all about when we would go by the establishment and see people jostling for position in line.  Great restaurant owners know great ingredients which in turn lead to great burgers.  This chain of events was displayed during our visit to Au Cheval, and I would highly recommend it for anyone looking to try a burger worthy of having the word “greatest” in its title.  You might disagree with me about it being the be-all, end-all of burgerdom, but it is a high quality burger for a very reasonable price even with a bit of a wait.  So, if you don’t know where to go for lunch or have time to wait during dinner, gallop over to Au Cheval!
Au Cheval Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Loco For The Yoko

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Ah sushi.  Just one facet of Japanese cuisine that has taken the world by storm.  Most people think of this food as being super Japanese and simply means “raw fish”.  On the contrary, sushi was originally invented in Southeast Asia, and sushi actually refers to the vinegar laden rice that upholds the meal.  It wasn’t until the early 1800s in Japan when the sushi and sashimi (raw fish slices) were combined as we consume it now.  It was referred to as Edo (Tokyo’s old name) style sushi.  While most people focus on the quality of the fish, in reality the sushi rice is considered of greater importance to the overall dining experience.  In Japan, a sushi chef can’t begin to serve fish until he has mastered the art of preparing the perfect batch of sushi rice.  If you want a great movie to see the training and art of sushi at its finest and most old-school, check out Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  While I’ve experienced sushi in Tokyo, I managed to find a little slice of the homeland just around the corner from my house in Westmont, IL in the form of Yokohama Japanese Restaurant.

Now it may not be in the most glamorous place in the world: in a small strip mall next to train tracks and a water silo, but as I’ve learned throughout my travels around the world, never judge a restaurant by its appearance (however hidden, strange, or non-descript it might be).  IMG_4858When we walked through the door, we were actually the only people in the restaurant, and the stoic sushi chef who was meticulously scrubbing down his workstation greeted us with a konichiwa! IMG_4872 We were quickly seated and had our menus placed in front of us.  IMG_4859Looking over the menu, they had a plethora of sushi options that ranged from individual pieces (~$1.50~4 per piece) to combination platters of sushi and sashimi (~$20-25).  We naturally started with drinks, and I wasn’t sure what to get until I saw something called Ramune under the sodas.  So when it came to my table, Janice knew what it was, but I was greatly confused looking at this uniquely shaped bottle.  IMG_4862Our waitress popped the top of the bottle with something that looked like a metal rod, and suddenly a glass marble of sorts dropped into the middle of the neck yet somehow didn’t fall to the bottom. IMG_4865 It turns out that this bottle was introduced to Japan by a Scottish chemist who was selling lemonade soda which was subsequently promoted by local papers as a preventative for cholera.  When I tried to drink it, it was really hard to imbibe the lemon-lime soda I could liken to a more subtle Sprite in nature.  I had to somehow use my tongue to push it up while allowing enough space for the soda to flow.  I eventually was like a sugar crazed rabbit flicking my tongue on the end of one of those water bottles that attach on the side with the metal spigot.  Long story short, Janice finally figured out that the strangely notched neck had a resting place for the marble which didn’t help since I already had finished 3/4ths of the bottle.  The thirst was real.

Regardless of my sufferings in the name of quenching my thirst, we ordered our food.  Janice got a mix of spicy hotate (scallop) rolls, California kani (crab) rolls, and a tamago sushi roll.  As for me, I was quite hungry, so I got a katsudon.  We waited quite awhile for our food which was kind of surprising given that we were the only people in there, but it was a sign that they were making everything fresh and taking care to make each piece perfectly.  Before we got our main course, we received complimentary bowls of miso soup and a kind of noodle salad.  IMG_4863I love miso soup in any form because it was warming our souls on that frigid night along with the wonderful earthy, savory umami flavor that Japanese cooking is notorious for.  IMG_4864The noodle salad was ok, and the white dressing that it was drowning in tasted kind of like ranch but not as tangy.  Eventually, our food came out, and the care the staff took in preparing the meal showed through in every piece of sushi. IMG_4869 The spicy scallop rolls weren’t terribly spicy, but the seaweed wrapping mixed with the slightly salty scallops to perfection. IMG_4871 I was more of a fan of the California rolls since they had a mix of smooth avocado, sweet crab meat, and crunchy cucumbers. IMG_4870 The tobiko fish eggs on the outside were the icing on the cake or the crown on these king crab rolls since they added a salty contrast to the vinegar soaked sushi rice.  As for the tamago, it was a part egg and part rice sushi roll was a bit too bland for me, but it’s wildly popular in Japan and elsewhere in the Far East.  So much so that even famous Korean rapper G-Dragon perhaps unknowingly sported a dodgy hairdo paying tribute to the eggy treat.rambut-g-dragon-sushi  Then there was my katsudon.  The word katsudon is a portmanteau of the Japanese words tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) and donburi (rice bowl dish).

The bowl...

The bowl…

Surprise surprise, that’s exactly what my meal was:IMG_4868  a moderately sized bowl packed with rice on the bottom and then topped with a melange of egg, fried noodles, and fried pork cutlet pieces.  I couldn’t go wrong with all of that protein and carbs, and I really didn’t.  The pork was plentiful and lightly fried with a crumb-laden crust.  Mixing the pieces with the rice and noodles proved to be quite the hearty meal that filled me up but did not leave me bloated, uncomfortable with a greasy taste in my mouth, and with a bad case of the meat sweats.

By the end of the meal, we were greatly satisfied with our meal, and the price we paid wasn’t bad at all compared to more glamous/popular sushi joints.  So, if you want to get quality sushi at reasonable prices with friendly service, check out Yokohama Japanese Restaurant in Westmont! Sayonara!

Yokohama Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Woosah at Yeowoosai

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Fried chicken.  Is there any other food that is more quintessentially ‘Murikan?  Actually, I’ll have to stop you right there.  Fried chicken actually has its roots in Scotland where they coated their chicken and made it so much tastier than the boiled and baked versions of the poultry dish down south in England.  They carry on the tradition even today of consuming everything fried including Mars bars and cookies.  There is also evidence that West African cuisine utilized fried chicken for ceremonial meals.  Ergo, when both European immigrants from Scotland and African slaves arrived in the American South, the culinary traditions of both groups became woven into the fabric of the multi-colored patchwork that is our country’s food history.  However, what many people wouldn’t associate with fried chicken is Korea.  In fact, during my time in the Land of the Morning Calm, I sampled some of their fried delights that were an extra-greazy reminder of home in an otherwise kimchi-laden environment.  However, Yeowoosai in Chicago’s Koreatown manages to combine both American and Korean cuisine with a sports bar atmosphere that conveniently has a noraebang (or karaoke) attached.

It’s located in a small strip mall, but little did I know that my tastebuds and my world were about to be rocked into submission.IMG_4333  It was quite empty when we went, but I’m sure it gets quite bumping on the weekend.  IMG_4334We didn’t look at the menu since Janice ordered for me since she gets the same thing every time she goes there:  the 닭디겜 (daktigem or popcorn chicken).  We also got  김치볶음밥 (kimchi bokkeumbap or kimchi fried rice).  However, they do offer plenty of Korean classics like 비빔밥 (bibimbap or a rice bowl with meat and veggies), 김치찌개 (kimchi jjigae or kimchi soup), and  갈비 and 불고기 (galbi or grilled ribs and bulgogi or marinated beef).  The entire time we were waiting, Janice was building up this food, but I didn’t believe how good it really was going to be.  It’s not like I haven’t seen popcorn chicken or fried rice before.  How severely mistaken I was.  First the popcorn chicken came out.  It was literally the size of a wash basin and my potential food baby was lying in it.  It was served with a side of “yellow sauce” and a pickled jalapeno and radish mix.  IMG_4339This was hands-down the best popcorn chicken I’ve ever tried in my life.  From the smooth, buttery, yet light breading to the juicy all white meat nuggets that were quickly filling my stomach, I couldn’t get enough.  Then when I dipped them into the yellow sauce which I figured must be some type of mayonnaise and horseradish concoction with a hint of pepper, a dash of crack, and a soupçon of meth mixed in (seriously though, no drugs were involved in the making of this delicious meal), it finally happened.  I was and still am addicted to Yeowoosai’s popcorn chicken and yellow sauce complete with meat sweats and shakes.  As for the jalapeno and radish salad, I thought it was a refreshing, cool, tangy, and slightly spicy way to cleanse your palate between mouthfuls of chicken.  Then there was the kimchi fried rice.  We just got the original with Spam and eggs.  Why put Spam in a meal when you have a choice not to?  Why not use beef, chicken, or pork?  Well, Spam in Korean cuisine is actually a carry over from the Korean War period where food was scarce, but the American military ate Spam.  So, that’s what the local populace scavenged from the GI army bases to make meals.  While South Korea has made great advances since then, Spam still is seen as a luxury gift.  This often bewilders Americans and other Westerners when Korean shoppers are clamoring to buy Spam giftsets for loved ones at Christmas and Chuseok or Thanksgiving Day.   The American armed forces has also made Spam popular in other places like the Philippines and Hawaii.  Hooray for spreading terrible quasi-meat around the world!  Anyway, the fried rice.  IMG_4340Once again, portion-wise it was gigantic like the popcorn chicken and for a great price.  It was also a quality choice.IMG_4341  Compared to the kimchi fried rice back in the Motherland, it was even better.  It was rich, spicy, but not too spicy.  The pieces of kimchi thrown in provided a texture contrast that popped up now and then between spoonfuls.  I was having multiple moments of being overwhelmed by the large amount of mind-blowingly amazing food in front of me, but eventually my wild ride came to an end as I threw in the towel..er napkin and woosahed .

Long story short, go to Yeowoosai if you want to try a Korean sports bar with plenty of dishes your average ajumma (Korean old woman) would recognize.  Plus, these huge and reasonably priced portions of food will leave both your wallet and stomach stuffed.  Not a bad deal at all.

Yeowoosai on Urbanspoon
 

Throwback Post: Mămăligă in Romania

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What is up, everyone out there?  Welcome to the first installation of many on Mastication Monologues that is a retro series of food adventures I undertook throughout Europe while living in Barcelona.  I know there are many stereotypical dishes to try throughout Europe like fish and chips in England, baguettes and pate in France, or tons of different tapas in Spain to name a few.  Believe me, I’ve tried them, and they all were delicious.  Instead, I’d like to highlight more unique plates and snacks that you might have never even heard of and might want to try or maybe not.  Today’s post brings us to the farthest eastern point of my wanderings:  Romania.

Romania is an anomaly in Eastern Europe.  Not only do they speak a language that falls into the Romance category alongside French, Italian, and Spanish while being surrounded by Slavic neighbors, but their most famous celebrity is the infamous prince of the night, Dracula.  I went there in December with my friends Kevin, Steph, Jesus, and Jillian, and it was probably the best trip I ever took during my time abroad.

We all approve of our new house.

We all approve of our new house.

My travel companions, the wild environs including wild dogs in the airport, and just the general randomness that seems to be more prevalent in Eastern Europe made it a journey to remember.  n1949958_46935972_9877The food was a mix of Slavic and Latin flavors with a leaning more toward the former, and one meal that really stood out to me was something called mămăligă.

Since it was the beginning of December, it was quite chilly, so we didn’t spend a lot of time sitting in parks and enjoying the local flora and fauna in Bucharest.  We quickly found a folk restaurant and appreciated the warm room and comfortable places to sit.  It looked like a more upscale place based on the spotless floors and walls, but it also seemed more traditional in its decor.  While many restaurants in America may give you a free bread basket or tortilla chips with salsa on the side, this place supplied us with a complimentary plate of assorted pickled vegetables along with a free shot of vodka.  I’m sure the pickled cucumbers and spicy peppers were used to chase the strong spirit, and the alcohol warmed us up quite quickly.  We looked over the menu, and I couldn’t really decide what to get.  The staff didn’t speak much English, but I saw there were terrible English translations under the Romanian items.  One caught my eye called balmoş (sometimes spelled balmuş).  It just said it was made of  mămăligă, butter, cheese, sour cream, and eggs.  The waiter seemed happy with my choice, and it really piqued my attention once it came out.  it was served in a small bowl.  It looked like a yellow and white porridge with bits of sausage on top.  After doing some research afterward, the yellow was the mămăligă or a porridge made of yellow corn.800px-MamaligaBranza  It is normally boiled with water and can serve as a substitute for bread, but for this balmoş it was boiled in sheep milk.  Along with that fun tidbit, I found out that this dish is a specialty with Romanian shepherds.HPIM2109  So, I grabbed a spoon and dug into the bowl to find layers of sour cream, telemea (a type of feta cheese), caş (a type of fresh curdled ewe cheese), urdă (a type of curdled cheese).  Thank God for Wikipedia to explain all of those cheeses to me.  The cheeses were strong and pungent yet softened by the sour cream and porridge.  It wasn’t a huge bowl, but it really stuck to my ribs for the rest of the day/night.  I could tell that the Romanian shepherds perfected this recipe for long, lonely stretches in the wild.  However, I was surrounded by friends and having the time of my life in Romania.

So if you want perhaps a Romanian vegan take on chili or are in Bucharest and looking for a fading piece of the past, try the mămăligă!

Burgers That D-Fi Hunger

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Boom!  This is my 160th post!  Thanks everyone for your support, and expect me to keep on supplying quality restaurant reviews far into the future.  So, let’s start with a welcome to Mastication Monologues for first time viewers and long-time fans.  Today’s post is part two of my Florida trip.  My previous post features an off-beat pizzeria that can satisfy even the most square food lover (as if there existed such a thing).  As for today, I’ll still be pushing the boundaries of my culinary fortitude as I recount my visit to BurgerFi, a place that reinvents both burgers and desserts.

During our stay in Delray Beach, Florida, we did a bit of walking up and down the street lining the beach, and obviously there were plenty of restaurants to take advantage of the hungry swimmers and tanners.  One place that caught my attention was BurgerFi due to its modern exterior and warmly lit interior.IMG_2841  IMG_2840 IMG_2839We waltzed past their outdoor patio to find an extensive menu that focused mainly on burgers but also offered hot dogs, sides, desserts, beer, wine, and a “secret” menu that boasted some interesting choices like a quinoa burger for all those vegetarians out there. IMG_2837 I, however, went for the Breakfast All Day burger ($5.25) with a Coke de Mexico to drink ($3).  They employed a buzzer system for orders where I just took my drink back to my table to wait for my burger to emerge from the back like a tasty bear emerging from its den after a long winter.  While it was being crafted, I sat at the table enjoying my Mexican Coke that I had never tried before. IMG_2824 What separates the Mexican Coke from good old ‘Murikan Coke is that the former still utilizes regular sugar as a sweetener.  In comparison, the American entry we now imbibe is laden with unhealthy high fructose corn syrup due to our country’s ability to grow a surplus of corn and the overall bottom line for the company in regard to production costs.  What does this mean for me?  Well, a definite taste contrast for one thing.  While the American Coke could be described as a sweet but slightly acidic tasting cola, the Mexican Coke tasted a bit cleaner with a richer flavor.  Eventually, my burger was ready, and it was slightly frightening. IMG_2825 According to the menu, they start with an Angus burger and then pile on American cheese, hickory bacon drizzled with maple syrup, a fried egg, hash browns, onions, and ketchup.  With the bacon strips sticking out like crimson tongues from the mini-monster sitting in front of me, I saddled up my taste buds and rode into the maw of the beast.

Open wide

Open wide

The crunchy pieces of bacon crumbled beneath my full frontal assault, but I nearly lost my senses as the sweet mixed with the smokey and salty pork sent my head spinning…either that or I had a mini-stroke.

Doing work

Doing work

Once I passed that trial, I moved into the actual burger and was greeted with a liberal douse of egg yolk and meat juice.  This was a testament to the quality of the meat that was grilled to perfection, and the egg that added an extra texture dimension to the meal.  As for the hash browns, they were lying in wait at the bottom mixed up with the onions and ketchup to provide body to the burger.  The only downside was the bun that quickly faded away with each bite, and the aforementioned hashbrown mixture contributed to the burger succumbing to Hot Mess Syndrome or H.M.S.

Lookin' pretty rough

Lookin’ pretty rough

If H.M.S. reaches critical mass, i.e. it’s a matter seconds before your burger falls apart in your hand, then you either have to make the decision to stuff it into your mouth or let it tumble to the table.  Before long, I had reached this point, and I opted for the former option instead of letting it fall into the basket.  This lack of burger integrity left me disappointed and covered in the remnants of my meal like a lion who just polished off a zebra.  Once I wiped the scraps away from my hands and mouth, I decided to go for dessert because I was in vacation mode.  I went over the ice cream options, and I plumped for the O.M.C. or Oh My Chocolate concrete ($4).  This treat was absolutely ridiculous in construction and would probably be a tasty way to illustrate the layers of the earth.IMG_2838  They alternated between layers of chocolate custard and then accompanying layers of peanut butter, chocolate chips, sprinkles, and brownie chunks.  It was as decadent as it sounds, but I didn’t feel sick by the end of it.  It was like eating a giant, liquified Reese’s peanut butter cup with occasional crunchy chocolate chips or chewy brownie bites.  Needless to say, I was greatly satisfied by the meal as a whole as I cleaned up the slobber on the table when I finished.

So if you want to try a burger place that provides high quality and creative meals at a reasonable price, then BurgerFi is the eatery for you!
BurgerFi on Urbanspoon

Un Tapateo Muy Feo (A Very Ugly Tapas Dinner)

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Ever since living and studying in Barcelona during my undergrad years, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the peninsular nation.  I don’t know if it was the warm people (especially the andaluces), the lovely historical sights, or the fantastic food, but I miss living there.  Back in the States, I would always try to find new places to get tapas to see how they measured up to the ones back in Spain, and I was generally pleased  (See Tapa 1, 2, Patatas).  Perhaps when I’m finished with my time here in Korea, I might make a return to the land of jamon and Don Simon.  However, since I’m still in Korea, I thought I had found a slice of Espana in the form of Que Tal Tapas which is located in Bupyeong in Incheon.  In order to get there you have to go to Bupyeong Market exit 2 and walk for about ten minutes until you look down a side street on your left.  Here’s the front of the restaurant to get an idea of what to look out for:IMG_1310

So I had originally thought of going to this place for my birthday since I love Spanish food, but instead I ended up going to the wonderful Action Grill.  Therefore, I vowed to one day try this taperia before I left the Land of the Morning Calm.  I finally made the sojourn yesterday with a fellow KOTESOL member after attending the smallest teaching conference ever with a whopping total of three people including me.  The interior had some nice, kooky drawings along with various types Spanish paraphernalia hanging on the wall.  That’s about where everything “Spanish” about this place ended.  First, there was the menu.  It took me flipping through five pages of pizza, spaghetti, and risotto dishes to finally get to the tapas.  While Spain and Italy might occupy the same  language family and are both ballin’ peninsulas, a Spanish restaurant should not have more types of pizza than tapas.  I did see that they had paella as well, but it was well tucked away like the tapas.  The tapas that they offered ranged from 4,000-6,000 W, and they were quite uninspired creations.  Not only were they almost all seafood creations, but somehow bruschetta made it on the menu.  I sincerely hope they were referring to pan amb tomaquet or else the owners need a serious culinary geography lesson.   My friend and I decided to get the pizza set for 35,000 W which was a great deal since we got the following:  either a Margherita or verde pizza, two 4,000 W tapas, one 6,000 W tapa, and two drinks which could be soda, coffee, house wine, or an ade.  For our combo, we got the verde pizza, tortilla espanola, cooked mushrooms, roasted shrimp, and two glasses of the house wine.The first items that came out were the mushrooms along with the two glasses of wine.

IMG_1313  I found the wine to be quite pedestrian as it was of the dry red variety, but it was fine since the mushrooms were quite vivacious in terms of flavor.  They seemed to be sauteed with some type of beef stock infused with pepper and had a slight woody aftertaste.  IMG_1312These hongos were garnished with a fried egg on the side which they told us to dip the pieces into, and there were some fresh dandelion greens on top along with some savory purple olives I enjoyed.  Unfortunately, this was the only plate that wowed us, so it was somewhat depressing in hindsight to know that we reached the apex of the meal after one tapa.  After the mushrooms came my nemesis in Spanish cuisine:  la tortilla.  Now, when most people hear the word, “tortilla” they automatically think that I was just munching on some flatbread instead of making a taco like a normal person.  Of course I would hate it if I did that, but a tortilla in Spain is actually more like an omelet with potatoes inside.  When I lived in Barcelona, I thought it was flavorless and nothing special.  Que Tal tapas managed to recreate this signature blandness even more so by having a higher potato:egg ratio in comparison to the real thing.  IMG_1314Why they would serve us such a demure tasting plate after the bold mushrooms is beyond me.  The penultimate entry in this pageant of mediocrity was the grilled shrimp.  Here I was thinking, “Que bien!  Me encantan gambas al ajillo!” (Oh good!  I love grilled shrimp!), but I was in for a rude awakening. IMG_1315 While I admired their presentation, I don’t think I’ve ever consumed such terrible shrimp in my life.  Not only was the texture of the meat extremely chewy to an unsettling degree, but they had an almost chemical-esque flavor to them.  I tried another shrimp after the first just to see if I had picked a bad one.  Nope.  Basura (garbage).  As if this train wreck of a dinner couldn’t get any more interesting, they brought out our verde pizza.  I wondered what made it “verde” (green) when ordering it, and I could see it got its moniker from the mini-garden that was chilling out on top of the actual pizza.

Step 1:  Find out if you got a salad or a pizza.

Step 1: Find out if you got a salad or a pizza.

 Our waitress then said to us, “Roll” while gesticulating towards the pizza.  This was very disconcerting since I’ve never heard anyone tell me to roll my pizza.  I could see why she said this when I went for a piece.  It was incredibly thin, had no cheese, and was just mushrooms and the greens.

Step 2:  Attempt to find a method of eating said salad/pizza.

Step 2: Attempt to find a method of eating said salad/pizza.

 The only way you could eat it without getting half the contents on your pants was like a taco.  I know you fold NYC-style pizza in order to eat it better, but this pizza was just ridiculous.

Step 3:  Why?...Just why?

Step 3: Why?…Just why?

 The taste didn’t even justify its unique consumption style.  While I always appreciate an opportunity to up my fresh vegetable intake, the mushrooms were tasteless and the dough was a non-factor.  This pizza was the equivalent of “that” drunk person at the holiday office party.  The pizza looked like it would be a good time initially, but after spilling itself all over my hands and being really annoying to eat, I never wanted to see it again.

In the end, don’t go to Que Tal Tapas if you’re looking for a real tapas experience.  It’s the culinary equivalent of Don Quijote fighting the windmills.  It tries really hard but fails every time.

Last Action (Grill) Hero/Which Came First: Toast or the Egg?

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Hey everyone!  Welcome to the 120th installation of Mastication Monologues!  Not only is this post special just because I’ve reached another milestone in the “arduous” quest to be a great food blog writer, but it’s also an installment that chronicles my 26th birthday.  Naturally, I had to go big for my second birthday overseas, so I ended up at Action Grill in Hongdae.  Here is their business card with all of the information you need along with their Facebook page.  The directions are quite long and detailed, so I’m sure Google Maps will suffice.1425636_3030604761194_2036417494_n

It’s surprising that I even ended up here in the first place because I found it originally on accident like Christopher Colombus minus the biological warfare and genocide of the local population.  It was a lovely summer day with my friend who I went out with to get ice cream at Fell and Cole.  We then walked around Hongdae just for fun, and we stumbled upon the establishment that drew us in with the grills set up outside.  We took a look inside, and I knew that I absolutely had to eat at Action Grill one day.  What better day than my birthday?  So I set everything up with the owner, Kim, whose number is on the card.  He was very helpful and understanding, so I’d give the service an A+ just based on his accommodating nature.  Now you might be wondering what sets Action Grill apart from other restaurants and made me want to eat there above all other places?IMG_2647  Well, at Action Grill you camp indoors while you eat.  So basically everything from the seats to the grills, to the decor are straight out of a foray in the forest. IMG_2642IMG_2643 Their menu revolves around grill sets which range from 15,000 W to 40,000 W.  They also have a wide range of beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.  For our group of 12 people, we got three of the “Brother” sets which feeds four people, more or less.  It took about 15 minutes for them to prepare it, and then they brought it out to our tables in full Weber grills.  When they removed the tops, I was taken aback by how much delicious food was piled up in front of me.IMG_2644IMG_2645  On one grill we had slices of bacon, sausages, full shrimp, chicken, potato wedges, and veggies encased in a tin foil tent.  It was a fun group eating experience since you had fold out forks and filled up each others’ small camping bowls with the food.  As for the actual meal, all of the food was great.  I was especially partial to the bacon because there was a lot of fat on it which made it especially smooth and buttery tasting.  The chicken was good but oddly had an aftertaste of hot dogs.  I personally liked combining the onion and pepper veggie salad with the different meats to provide a crisp contrast to the savory elements that the meats brought.  As for the potato wedges, they were well made with crunchy exteriors along with firm, snow-white interiors.  It was an even more interesting dining experience since I was interviewed and filmed by Korean college students talking about how I much I enjoyed the restaurant.   Overall, I was quite satisfied with my meal at Action Grill and the unique camping experience was quite entertaining since they took away all of the annoying parts of camping like mosquitos and rabid raccoons.  However, my birthday food adventure didn’t just stop there.  I also tried some pizza beer with my friend, Bora.  Somehow Tom Seefurth managed to distill the essence of a classic Margherita pizza into a lager.  It wasn’t something that I would ask for again, but the experience was worth it.  It had a distinct oregano smell, but as for the taste, it was more peppery and cheesy.  This was an occasion where I think they over-elaborated on culinary fusion.  Nothing’s better than pizza and beer, but when they combined them, it left me feeling less than saucy.

Mama mia!  indeed

Mama mia! indeed

Much later in the night after a lot of dancing and the occasional imbibing of some adult beverages, my friends and I stopped for some Korean street food.  This time I tried a Korean winter specialty,  계란 빵 or egg bread.

Breakfast for a late night snack

Breakfast for a late night snack

It’s exactly what it sounds like.  Creative name, huh?  They look like small hors d’oeurves served up on a hot griddle, but they were just what I needed to brace myself against the chilly night.  The egg is served sunny side up on top of the bread, so watch out for some yolk splatter.  As for the bread, it was pleasantly crispy and completed this small, hearty breakfast tablet that I ate in the middle of the street.

Freezing but so worth it

Freezing but so worth it

A tasty end to my birthday even though half of it ended up on my face thanks to Bora trying to feed me it.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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