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Baby Got Burger

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Chicago is a tapestry of many different people from various walks of life and nationalities.  However, this doesn’t mean that everyone lives in perfect harmony.  The city is broken down into small neighborhoods that could be defined through race and/or socio-economic class.  All of this manifests itself in the form of being the most racially segregated city in the USA.  Thus, if someone tells you if they’re from one of the “sides” of the city, you can almost always determine what race and/or tax bracket they fall into.  Disclaimer:  the following are stereotypes associated with residents of different parts of the city, but some aspects are rooted in truth.  Northside residents are normally more educated, affluent, and white (of Central or Northern European descent).  Westsiders and Southsiders are a bit more variable in their education and economic class, but one can find more black, Latino, Southern and Eastern European enclaves in these parts of the city.  Along with that, there is a certain feel that the Southside is more blue collar and Ditka-obsessed in comparison to the genteel and hipster Northside.  It’s especially evident in the crosstown baseball rivalry with the Northside Cubs and Southside White Sox.  Therefore, I’d like to bring a bit of my old neighborhood on the Southside that is an institution.  I’m talking about Nicky’s Hot Dogs in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood located at 6142 S Archer AveChicago IL 60638.

Ever since I could remember, my family and I would visit this family-run hot dog stand to get a ton of delicious food for reasonable great prices.  I was recently in the ‘hood and decided to pay the old boy a visit.IMG_3383  I got there around lunchtime, and as I expected, the minuscule parking lot was packed to the hilt.  I parked on the adjacent block since I was getting my food to go.  As soon as I stepped in, the place hadn’t changed in ages. IMG_3384 They still have the same swivel seats along the lunch counter and plastic signs for menus.  Nicky’s is a symbol of the no-frills, hardworking, homely spirit of the Southside in both decor and menu.  It ranges from burgers to Polish sausages to hot dogs as you can see in the following picture.  IMG_3386I wanted to get two of the best items on the menu:  the Big Baby double cheeseburger ($2.90) and a hot dog ($2.25 with free fries).  However, I’d definitely recommend their gyros as well.  The cashier joked about Brazil winning the opening game of the World Cup against Croatia (he was Croatian) and possible riots after a Brazil loss.  I assured him they didn’t have to worry; people were rioting before the first ball was kicked.  After placing my order and waiting with a diverse clientele of Polish and Mexican construction workers, bankers, and families, my food finally came out.  It was encased in a simple brown paper bag, and I could already see the grease stains coming through from the mountain of fries they give you.IMG_3387  If you are worried about portion sizes, put them to the side when hitting up this Chicago eatery.  Their fries are a bit on the salty side, but that doesn’t take away from their overall quality.IMG_3389  Then there is the Big Baby.IMG_3391  It’s a double cheeseburger that grabs you at the first bite with it’s grilled, juicy patties, melted slices of American cheese, pickles, ketchup, and caramelized onions. IMG_3392IMG_3393 While it wouldn’t be considered “big” according to ‘Murikan standards where a big burger could feed a family of three for four days, it’s a titan in terms of flavor.  As for the hot dog, they are of a boiled variety and then topped with almost all of the standard Chicago toppings:  onions, mustard, relish, and pickled sport peppers. IMG_3395 No ketchup here, and you will be chewed out (pun intended) if you ask for it.  While it lacks the tomato slices I enjoy, I love the beef mixing with the sweet relish, tart mustard, and pungent diced white onion atop the bun like confetti.  By the end of the meal, I finished strutting down memory lane with a full stomach and a “see you soon” in my mind.

So if you want to venture beyond the cutting-edge eateries and more expensive restaurants on the Northside and want to sample a tried and true establishment that serves basic yet delicious and cost-effective food options, come on down to Nicky’s Hot Dogs.

Nicky's Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon

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Raising the Bar

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Bars are normally just known as watering holes for groups of friends on the town or creepers trying to cruise for some ladies (all dependent on what part of town you’re in, of course).  Their drink selections can range from the mundane to the most elaborate with the rise of microbreweries and the sudden rise of professional mixologists, a.k.a. hipster bartenders.  However, it’s not often that people associate fresh and/or gourmet food with bar food.  True, it may be delicious, deep fried, and coated/stuffed/infused with many different types of cheese but nothing for more elegant palates.  This was the case with Jimmy’s Grill in downtown Naperville.

Originally, Jimmy’s was your more typical waterhole that was the starting point of the night with a couple drinks before going to some of the more dance-centric establishments.  The food?  Just burgers, fries, nachos, and more fried foods up the wazoo.

Meh

Meh

These guilty pleasures were of average quality and served more as a lining for your stomach for the bender to come rather than a culinary experience.  However, I recently visited it for the first time since coming back from Korea.  Not only do they have a new logo and color scheme, but according to the menu, they have a new chef in the form of Travis Rodriguez and new management.  Looking over the menu, I could see that they really upheld their pledge to utilize, “house braised, grass fed meats, free range chicken, fresh seafood, and baked goods.”  I mean hummus?  tartare? asparagus?  Talk about the transformation of the ugly duckling.  After much deliberation, I decided to get the Cubano sandwich ($11) which came with a free side of vinegar chips, salad, or fries.  I went with the last option.  My dad got the Picasso burger with Swiss cheese on top ($11), and my mom got the pulled pork sandwich ($11).

After a good amount of time taking in the new environs and checking out their ginormous tvs on the patio, they brought out our meals.  My Cuban sandwich looked great and tasted even better. IMG_3375 Not only did it have the signature grill marks thanks to the panini-esque grill called the plancha, but I could see all of the key ingredients that have made the Cuban sandwich a Miami staple since the early 1960s when Cuban refugees fled Castro’s Commie paradise.  From the first bite, I was hooked.  The bread was light, crispy, and chewy and gave way to a one-two punch of juicy pork loin and a hefty layer of succulent ham slices. IMG_3376 Next came the melted Swiss cheese that gave the sandwich a slightly nutty yet mellow flavor that served as a contrast to the sour pickle slices and tart yellow mustard drizzled over all of the bread.  They didn’t spare any expense with any of the ingredients which led to a meal packed with plenty of sassy Latino flavor to the last cheesy bite.  The French fries were expertly fried and very lightly salted which scored major points with me.  Moving on from there, I luckily was able to steal a nibble from my mom’s barbecue pulled pork sandwich that came with a side of apple jicama slaw and onion rings.IMG_3369  The pork was messy yet heavenly with the sweet sauce that coated every strand, and the onion rings were perfect in terms of breading composition and onion stability within the crunchy shell. IMG_3371 I didn’t get to try my dad’s burger since I didn’t fancy a ruptured stomach, but he took it down like a champ. IMG_3373IMG_3372 Ergo, I’d only assume it was delicious.  I did try the vinegar potato chips on the side, and they were crispy yet oh so sour with plenty of white vinegar bite.

Overall, I’d highly recommend checking the newly improved Jimmy’s Grill.  Not only is the food delicious but also nutritious for a reasonable price.

Jimmy's Grill on Urbanspoon

Ribbed For My Pleasure

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Burgers, barbecue, and beer.  What more could one ask for for dinner in the summer?  Perhaps a big pool or white sand beach and plenty of sunshine instead of the dreary weather I encountered upon meeting my friends out in Schaumburg at Westwood Tavern and Tap.Front-Doors

As my friend, Erin, who thoughtfully supplied me with an umbrella, and I quickly ran inside from the rain, we were greeted with a spacious and elegantly furnished sports bar.  From the stone finishing on the walls to the towering wall of illuminated liquors behind the bar, it was a welcoming place for sports fans trying to catch the next nail-biting Hawks game or a couple out for their first date.  We were a party of three and were seated in a booth that was a bit too wide for adequate conversation between three people.  So we all had to get a bit more intimate with each other in regard to proximity which might not be as easy with larger groups in the booths.  I started by looking over the drink menu, and it was like a yellow pages for Brewtown, USA.  While I was well acquainted with most of its residents, I noticed a new neighbor on the block.  So, I gave the Black Butte Porter ($5) a warm welcome.IMG_3264  The simple label belied its pleasant, rich, chocolate/coffee flavor contained within an enveloping shade of ebony.  As for the food, I could choose from a variety of items ranging from sushi, flatbreads, salads, signature entrees, and of course, burgers.  I had a hankering for a good burger, and who doesn’t when you’re hungry?  I settled on the Baby Back Burger ($12) along with a complimentary side of fries and smoked jalapeno mayo.  I’m sure you can reason what the “baby back” in my burger derives from.  If not, perhaps this catchy Chili’s jingle can explain it for you.  Before I get to describing my meal, I do have to point out that our waiter screwed up my friends’ orders.  Erin wanted sweet potato fries, but she got normal fries.  Carolyn didn’t even get her sushi either.  I don’t know if the server was having a bad day or if there was a mix up, but he made up for it with a heaping bowl of sweet potato fries and eventually brought Carolyn her sushi. Anyway, it’s true that they put bbq rib pieces on top of my burger along with cheddar cheese, chipotle mayo, and onion strings.IMG_3265IMG_3270  I couldn’t believe it when I was looking at it.  I placed all of it together in one sexy package and proceeded to take a bite.  It was like your typical barbecue, cheddar, bacon burger sans the pork belly, but the barbecue brought a smoky sweetness that jived with the crunchy onion strings.  Even with all of this going on inside the burger, the bun managed to hold together the party on my plate.  As for the fries, they were ok, and the jalapeno mayo could have been a bit more flavorful.IMG_3267  I could see that they were trying to bring a bit of the pepper infusion to an otherwise bland condiment, but it’s back to the drawing board for this one.

Overall, Westwood Tavern has plenty to offer for diverse tastes to a certain extent, but aside from that, it’s just another fancy sports bar and grill.

 

Westwood Tavern & Tap on Urbanspoon

Five Fingers Full of Burger Fury

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Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues.  Today’s post is not about a food that is extremely disgusting like some of my posts in Beijing or Korea, but rather a dish that has been adapted throughout the world for local tastes.  What might that be?  The hamburger.  This simple, extremely meaty riff on a classic sandwich is often considered to be the quintessential American food alongside hot dogs and apple pie, compliments of a certain clown and golden arches.  However, today I will be talking about Five Guys, the new kid on the block when it comes to expansive burger chains.IMG_3101

Although the franchise started back in 1986, it hadn’t really caught on like wildfire until 2003 when they expanded to their current status of having over 1,000 locations in 47 states and 6 Canadian provinces.  The concept behind Five Guys is simple:  fresh, made to order burgers with handcut French fries that are made each day.  The quality shone through on the most recent occasion I visited since I have already been there.  Their menu isn’t very elaborate offering mainly hamburgers or cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and some sandwiches that cater to the vegetarian crowd.  This time around, I got a cheeseburger ($6.20) and a side of Five Guys fries ($2.50).  You also have plenty of options to choose from in terms of toppings to put on the burger, so I went “all the way” with mayo, lettuce, pickles, ketchup, mustard, grilled onions, and no mushrooms but you can get them if you like grilled fungus on your burger.  The cool part about Five Guys was that I could watch them make the burger from grill to completed product along with my fries in the deep fryerIMG_3102.  They were efficiently assembled, and I received my order in a paper sack.  I opened up my mini aluminum silo of beef to find a burger that was stacked with two substantial patties and two slices of American cheese along with all of the toppings I mentioned.  I had to step back and admire this bad burger with the same reverence that Edmund Hillary probably had before scaling Everest, but I sallied forth into the wilderness that was my cheeseburger. IMG_3107 From the first bite, I was hooked.  The juicy beef patties and creamy cheese laid the foundations for the lighter condiments to shine especially the savory grilled onions.  The ingredients were superb, but construction-wise, this burger was a real leaning tower of flawed artistry. IMG_3108 Bigger doesn’t always equal better especially when trying keep the burger together.  I suffered from a mix of Newtonian physics and plate tectonics in food form where the patties would rub together with the liquid condiments and would slip in the opposite direction of where I was biting.  Thus, half my burger almost ended up flying out the back end of the bun onto the table top.  Never a good look.  Once I demolished that beefy behemoth, I turned my attention to the wonderful fries that were spilling out of the cup and filled some nooks and crannies of the bag.IMG_3104  These fries were obviously hand cut due to their irregular shape and still having the skins on them.  I noticed the slightly nutty flavor the peanut oil imparted to this classic partner to the burger.  They toed the line in terms of being too salty, but then again, I’m not a huge salt fan.  Based on previous experiences, I wouldn’t recommend their Cajun fries because they always seem to overdo the seasoning which makes the fries taste more like a spicy salt lick than potatoes.

Overall though, I’d highly recommend Five Guys burgers and regular fries that are pure Americana.  I pledge allegiance to the pure flavor of the United States of Burgerdom, and you should too!

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

 

Burgerville: A Wonderful Place to Meat (Portland, Part 2)

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Yo! So this is part two of my Portland travel journal where I’m chronicling my food adventures throughout the City of Roses.  Day one started off with a delicious breakfast, and today I’ll be presenting my wonderful lunch at Burgerville, a regional burger chain that started in Washington state and moved further south to Oregon.  What sets this company apart is their unique organic menu choices, commitment to improving the local communities where their restaurants are located, and even allowing bikes in their drive-thru lanes.  Talk about being progressive!IMG_2567

However, when I walked in, it was actually furnished like many other burger chains like Steak and Shake with the throwback 1950s decor complete with the signature jukebox and shiny, colorful vinyl seats.IMG_2570  The menu seemed to focus mainly on a variety of burgers living up to their namesake, but they also had a wide selection of chicken sandwiches, salads, vegetarian options, and desserts.  Not only that, but they had seasonal items for sides and offered jars of their signature sauces to take home with you.  After looking through their menu, I decided to go off the beaten culinary path and try one of their vegetarian options:  the spicy Anasazi bean burger. The Anasazi part of the name comes from the Native American tribe that lived in the Four Corners area (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico), and the beans they once farmed are offered by this small scale bean hawker.  Frankly, I was merely won over by the fact that it had some sort of spicy element in the title.  Plus, I’m trying to watch what I eat, so I appreciated the option to purchase something that’s a bit more heart healthy.  Not only did I get the meatless option, but I got the seasonal side which was a basket of rosemary shoestring potatoes and a side of Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese dipping sauce, another local Oregonian product.  When it came out, I couldn’t believe that I could order a vegetarian burger in a mainly meat burger chain restaurant and have it look this appetizing. IMG_2568 I was especially blown away simply at how verdant and fresh the lettuce looked on the burger.  Upon the first bite, I was amazed at how savory the burger tasted.  Thankfully it didn’t taste like I was eating a big pile of beans but rather a pseudo-beef patty.  The pepper jack cheese gave the meal some extra zing, and the chipotle mayo kicked up another notch that would make Emeril blush.

BAAAAAMMMMM!

BAAAAAMMMMM!

As for the French fries, I didn’t care for the size of them since I prefer my fries to be a bit bigger like crinkle fries, steak fries, or waffle fries.  Then again, size may not matter rather the motion in the ocean.  Flavorwise, it was like the perfect storm.  They were fried to the apex of flavor along with a liberal coating of rosemary seasoning and garlic olive oil.  The seasoning was borderline too saline for my palate, but I was greatly satiated by the end of the meal.

If you’re ever in the Pacific Northwest, I highly recommend you try out a Burgerville location for their fresh, organic dishes and general variety of menu items.  Burgerville, it’s a community that believes in food for thought.
Burgerville on Urbanspoon

Tokyo (Day 3)- Ainu Where The Good Food Was At

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to top the theatrics of Day 1 and Day 2 in Tokyo, but Day 3 still had its own unique charms.  For example, I started the day off with a more modest breakfast at the convenience store which consisted of some general snack cakes, and a drink that I’ve never seen before:  men’s cider.IMG_1797  It looked intense, so I decided to give it a shot.  It was delicious since it tasted like some sort of pomegranate soda.  It gave me the energy to venture forth for another long day of sightseeing which I thought would have culminated in lunch with the yakitori specialists at Toriki, but unfortunately they were only open for dinner at 5:30.  Crestfallen, I went on the search for the Pokemon Center in southern Tokyo, and  along the way decided for lunch to see what sort of wacky Japanese adapatations McDonalds integrated into their menu.  I was extremely disappointed.

Great dishonor to Amurka

Great dishonor to Amurka

I got a burger that had some type of chili sauce along with bacon cheese fries which I only got because they were part of a meal and don’t exist in American McDonalds.  I need not go into further detail with this pedestrian meal.  Thankfully, the ignominy of lunch was quickly erased with my dinner and dessert.

I had read on Wikitravel that there was a restaurant called Harukor specializing in Ainu (Eye-noo) cuisine in Tokyo which really piqued my interest.  Why you might ask?  What the hell is Ainu food?  Well, the Ainu are the indigenous people of Japan and Siberia who live all the way on the northern island of Japan called Hokkaido along with the Sakhalin Islands.  They look different from the ethnic Japanese, but due to intermarriage they no longer retain their unique appearances.  There are very few, if any, full blooded Ainu left, and they are subject to discrimination for their ethnicity.  They’re known for being astute hunters along with rocking sweet beards and cool woven clothes with distinct geometric patterns.

Dream on hipster beards

Dream on hipster beards

So I tried to follow the directions that Google Maps tried to give me, but it led me around in circles.  So I asked a tiny, ancient Japanese restaurant owner where the restaurant was.  He spoke no English, and I no Japanese.  I just said, “Harukor, Ainu, food, Hokkaido”.  He paused for a moment and proceeded to run down the street while beckoning me to join him.  After about 10 minutes of running through the street, and people wondering why this giant foreigner had an octogenarian running partner, he showed me exactly where it was.  Typical friendly Japanese hospitality.  For those who don’t want to run with old Japanese guys on the way to your dinner, go to Okubo station and out the south exit.  Make a left out the door and then a right and follow the road.  It will be on your left.IMG_1804IMG_1805  The actual restaurant space was quite tiny in comparison to the other places I ate at, but it had a lot of character with Ainu harp music playing on the speakers and various posters and items symbolizing the Ainu struggle.  IMG_1808IMG_1807The guy running it spoke very little English, but realized I didn’t speak Japanese after staring at the all Japanese menu.  He quickly busted out the English menu which I was grateful for.IMG_1806  He poured me a cup of chilled green tea which was refreshing after a long day of hustling.  I eventually went for the imoshito set and the fish soup which are both Ainu foods.  It reflected the humble culture these people have when the food came out.  The set consisted of a fried potato, pumpkin, and yomogi which according to Wikipedia is Japanese mugwort.IMG_1809  The potato one was quite good since it was creamy and even tempered like a fried potato should be.  As for the pumpkin, it was a bit surprising because it was my favorite since it had the texture of the potato with a hint of sweetness that enhanced the rich breading.  As for the yomogi, I personally liked it because it kind of had a sesame/perilla flavor to it.IMG_1810  As for the fish soup, I was less enchanted because there was barely any fish to be found.  IMG_1811It was more like a vegetable soup, but it still warmed my soul that night with steamed but not limp watercress, carrots, and celery.  It was a nice experience at a place that not many people know about and even fewer about the culture behind the food.  Then there was dessert at a separate place called Dairy Chiko.  This place is located in the Nakano Broadway B1 floor.IMG_3425  You just go north of Nakano station all the way through the covered market to Nakano Broadway, and wander in the basement until you find this booth. IMG_1813IMG_1812 I came here to take down the eight layer cone which was a steal for 4 bucks.  The guy working the machines was like an artist when he handed me my cone, but he warned me to stay by the garbage cans and hold it straight. IMG_1817 I soon set to work on the elite eight flavors:  vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, coffee, sesame, caramel, green tea, and bubble gum.  Not only was there a ton of ice cream up top, but he filled it to the bottom tip of the cone.  If I could pick a favorite, it would probably be the caramel layer (4th down from the top layer). It was completely worth it, and I highly recommend people to seek out Dairy Chiko.

Barato? Creo que no Vato!

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Hey everybody, and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues.  November is in full swing, and I have been living it up as I am slowly approaching the nine month mark in Korea and my birthday!  This weekend was no different as I managed to knock another restaurant off my culinary hit-list like the food assassin that I am.  I ended up going to Vatos Urban Tacos located at Itaewon-dong 181-8 2nd Floor, Seoul.  It’s very easy to get there:  go to the Itaewon metro stop and come out exit three; walk for a while until you pass a Nike and an Adidas store.  It’ll be a couple of minutes after them on your right hand side on a hill.  You also won’t be able to miss it because there will be more people outside of the restaurant than on free sample day at Costco.  I highly recommend you make reservations in advance because this restaurant is like Jay Gatsby’s parties, i.e. everyone and their omma is invited every night of the week.  So I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about.

The interior had a modern vibe mainly with dark wood elements and wrought iron/industrial metal elements like old spigots that constituted the table frames. IMG_1194 I had already seen my fair share of pictures of people on Facebook eating the various plates that Vatos offers like tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and their monster margaritas.IMG_1186  I was kind of sad you couldn’t mix and match their taco flavors, but I eventually settled for three braised carnitas tacos (8,000 W).  To drink, I went for their peach margarita (12,500 W) because you can never go wrong with peach flavored things.  The first thing we ate were the complimentary chips with salsa which were a bit different from any other Mexican restaurant I’ve been to because the tortilla chips were not chips. IMG_1187 They were still in their original tortilla form which didn’t make much of a difference to us, but they were good with the salsa verde and spicier salsa roja which most likely had serrano peppers in it for that smoky flavor.  We also split a basket of kimchi fries (11,500 W) which were great.

A tisket, a tasket, I went hog wild on this basket

A tisket, a tasket, I went hog-wild on this basket

Not only were the fries made to perfection, but the chopped onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, and sour cream managed to dance a perfect ranchera with the spicy kimchi that was nestled amongst the western ingredients.  When they came out, they confirmed my initial fears from my friends comments about the portion sizes.  These were the smallest tacos I’ve ever eaten.IMG_1193  I mean, I know I come from a country where a side of a cow constitutes a regular serving size, but Korea is not Lilliput either.  While they were delectable, they were not the best like back home or at Gusto Taco in Hongdae.  The meat was shredded and adequately seasoned but a bit on the dry side.  As for the tortillas, they felt very flimsy when I rolled up my taco, and I’m sure if they made their tacos any bigger, there would be meat and cheese all over customers’ hands.  I also didn’t really taste any lime that they talked about in the description on the menu, but it didn’t really bother me all that much.  My peach margarita, on the other hand, was large and in charge.

Peachy keen!

Peachy keen!

It definitely was one of the best margaritas I’ve ever had since it wasn’t slushy and filled with ice chips, and every sip was a smooth draw of rich peach flavor with a minor hint of alcohol.  As for my friends, Steph got the fajita burrito (11,000 w) which was much heartier than my tacos, and one element that really stood out to me was the chipotle mayonnaise.IMG_1192  It was an oddly pleasing ingredient to throw into a burrito, so I tip my sombrero to you Vatos.  As for her bf, Daeun, he got three spicy chicken tacos (9,000 w).IMG_1191  It was a very basic type of chicken taco, and it wasn’t even that spicy.  I personally preferred my tacos since they at least had more of a flavor profile with the cilantro and onions on top.  In the end, we were all stuffed and satisfied with our meal.

So if you want to go to one of most crowded but not the best taco restaurant in Seoul, go to Vatos, but remember it’s not muy barato (cheap).

Thinking Outside the Box and Eating Inside One

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Hey, everybody!  Well, it has been another long and arduous week at work, so I was definitely looking forward to my friends’, Lauren and Kevin, birthday party at Charcoalo, a somewhat secret barbecue joint in Apgujeong.  Here is their address:  642-12 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu.  It’s a bit complicated to explain how to get there, so I won’t bore you with the details.  The closest two stations are either Apgujeong or Gangnam-gu Office.  Just let Google Maps lead the way for you.  After navigating our way there, we were greeted with a large, red corrugated metal that almost seemed to glow like some sort of Polaris for barbecue lovers all over Korea.  I knew I came to the right place when I saw the window in the front let you watch the cooks in action while they slapped large slabs of steak and ribs on the sizzling stove tops.  Culinary poetry in motion.IMG_1110

Upon entering the establishment, it was definitely different than what I was expecting when I read that the restaurant was inside an industrial shipping container.  Instead of being greeted by a dank and dark interior where I would have expected to be tortured by members of the Korean mafia, it was a warmly lit dining room with an industrial edge in terms of decor.

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

Meropi obviously had a great time

Meropi obviously had a great time

It even had skylights cut in the ceiling which would be a blessing and a curse on a sunny day since I could see the rays of light possibly blinding some unlucky customers.  Giving the menu a once over, I could see that Charcoalo isn’t the cheapest barbecue eatery I’ve been to.  Case and point, a bottle of Cass Korean beer that’s normally 2-3 bucks was 7 bucks.  The menu contained different types of burgers, ribs (44,000 W for a rack), steaks, pizzas, and sides to go along with your main meal.  I went for the bacon cheeseburger set (16,000 W) which meant I got a side of fries and a soda (Coke, Sprite, Diet Coke, or Welch’s Grape).  I picked the last one since I needed something sweet after quite a bitter day with one of my coteachers.  When it came out, I was very excited due to its exquisite appearance and my gnawing hunger pains.IMG_1111

Almost everyone else at my table got double cheeseburgers, but they were kind of crestfallen once they saw the meaty masterpiece towering above my fries.

Sad Heidi is sad

Sad Heidi is sad

First, I’d like to say that this burger wasn’t the easiest thing to eat since you’d have to be a reticulated python to be able to take an adequate bite.

Now that's a burger

Now that’s a burger

It was piled high with a thick beef patty, mayo, ketchup, lettuce, cheese, tomato, semi-crispy bacon, and some additional pickled jalapenos, onions, and roasted garlic cloves that came on the side.  So, I was taking small bites, and each one was a small step towards to the center of this cheeseburger in paradise.  Still, the buns should have been bigger in order to accommodate the plethora of ingredients because there was definite slippage as the mayo caused the patty to sneak out the back of the burger.  Overall, it was a great cheeseburger without any surprises like at Burger Bay, and the french fries were superb.  They were crispy, golden-brown sticks of heaven, but I wish they were a bit bigger to grab with my fingers.  I’m not a big fan of the slightly-enlarged shoestring potato type of French fries.  Maybe these are more common in Korea because Koreans are afraid to eat with their hands.  Who knows?

So if you’re looking for quality barbecue and are willing to spend a little bit more to get it or just want a masterfully crafted burger, check out Charcoalo.

When Irish Stomachs Are Shrugging

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Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I’m going to be talking about a restaurant that I visited in Incheon after I once again was foiled by Taco Cielo.  The name of the restaurant is O’Malley’s Irish Pub located at 1474-3 Guwol-dong, Top Plaza 4F.  They don’t have a website but can be found on Facebook.

Since my good friend, Ravi, has come over to visit me from London, I’ve been trying to show him the sights and sounds of Korea whenever I’m not working.  However, sometimes it’s nice to take a break from soaking in all of the culture, smog, and kimchi and indulge in some Western food.  So, after having a short walkabout around Incheon’s Songdo International City, I decided I wanted to take him to Taco Cielo, a much vaunted Mexican restaurante in Incheon.  As I mentioned in a previous post, “Not Phonomenal“, I went to this Mexican eatery on a Saturday at 2pm, and it was closed.  It was closed again on a Wednesday night with a simple note on the window saying, “Closed today.  Sorry.”  Hopefully, the third time’s the charm, and I’ll finally be able to blog about it.  Anyway, I instead took my friend to O’Malley’s which is a building over.

When we walked in, it was like any other type of British pub with darts, foosball, and a long bar.  They serve mainly pub food like burgers, sandwiches, salads, and appetizers.  We settled down to our seats, and we ended up ordering nachos (10,000 W) to share. I got a bacon cheeseburger (10,000 W) with a Red Rock beer on the side (4,000 W).  I had this brew before on a night out when I was less than fully sober, and it tasted good.  Now that I was of sound mind and body, this wasn’t the case like most Korean beers.  The color overall was a warm reddish-brown with a slightly hoppy aftertaste with some minor sweet notes in the background.  However, it was an extremely watery lager like all the other Korean beers.  My expectations weren’t that high to begin with, so I wasn’t that disappointed.  As for the nachos, they were another story.  They came out, and it was a large plate of chips coated with meagre amounts of cheese but plenty of jalapenos, onions, and tomatoes along with a small cup of salsa.  I wasn’t very satisfecho with this plato.  Then, there was my burger.

A wee burger for a wee lad

A wee burger for a wee lad

I wasn’t too happy with the size of it, and I felt they cheated me with the amount of fries nestled next to the burger.  Then again, I justified the size of the burger with the fact that we’re in Korea, and everything is smaller.  Yet the Wolfhound in Itaewon didn’t disappoint in this department (See:  “Everything’s Bigger In Itaewon“).  As for the quality of the burger, it was pretty decent.  The bun was soft, pliable, and resilient to my savage mauling since I was quite hungry after a long and frustrating day of work.  The patty was perfectly grilled and juicy but had a strange pork taste to it like many burgers I’ve had in Korea.  As for the bacon, it wasn’t heavily seasoned but adequately crispy.  I really appreciated the basket of condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, Tabasco sauce, and vinegarette) they provided us when they came back with Ravi’s meal.  Finally, the fries were quite tasty even though there was an inadequate amount of them.  They were seasoned with a bit of allspice and salt, and their golden, crunchy exteriors led to fluffy white interiors.

Overall, O’Malley’s was a decent restaurant with really friendly staff, a welcoming atmosphere, and a variety of food.  However, if you’re looking for a great burger for a good price, I’d still recommend The Wolfhound in Itaewon over O’Malley’s.

It’s a Good Day to Fry Hard

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Hello to everyone out there to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  This is part one of two for my Easter weekend in Incheon/Seoul.  This past week has been way too crazy for its own good at school with losing one of my coteachers to sickness, so I was intent on making the most of this weekend to put my worries behind me.

So after a semi-wild night on Friday in Bupyeong, I was planning on meeting up with some friends at this barbecue festival in Seoul, but due to some detours they took, somehow they were over an hour late.  I got tired of waiting in the cold and semi-drizzling outdoors, so I went downstairs at Magpie Brewery to get my southern style barbecue to find a line that was all the way out the door and not moving.  I waited for probably ten minutes and called it quits.

Never meant to be

Never meant to be

I’ve had my fair share of barbecue, and I’m pretty sure this wasn’t going to be like the real thing I’ve had while in the Dirty South.  Instead, I made my down to a restaurant right around the corner that I saw on the walk over to the brewery:  The Poutine Factory.  Now, I remember during my childhood we took a trip to New York/Canada, and we stopped in Canada at a McDonalds for a bathroom break.  Naturally, I wanted to see if they had anything different on the menu, and I saw that they had something that looked like fries piled high with cheese curds and gravy with the word “Poutine” next to it.  I didn’t really know what it was back then, but that image always stuck with me.  So this place, Poutine Factory, seemed to be a perfect place to finally try that mysterious Canadian food I saw many years ago.

By Noksapyeong station

By Noksapyeong station

It wasn’t the cheapest meal I’ve had here, 12,000 won, but I went with the KB fries with a side of chili sauce.  The decor of the place was not too kitschy with little Canadian souvenirs everywhere along with different books in a little bookshelf with different facts about Canada.  I saw the guy also freshly frying the fries in the back, so I was expecting a great meal. They were all finished, and I was salivating just looking at the Poutine from afar.  Then the chef tripped and spilled it on the floor…luckily I got a discount because of it.  He whipped up a brand new order, and I was face to face with my Korean Poutine.

Bon soir, mon ami

Bon soir, mon ami

It was a mini mountain of freshly fried fries topped with kimchi, marinated bulgogi, chili sauce, sesame seeds, and sour cream.  Plus, I had a side of sweet chili sauce and a bottle of Sriracha just to keep things interesting (as if they weren’t already).  To start, the fries were perfect with a golden-brown hue and a fluffy white interior.  Plus, they were not greasy or over salted.  The bulgogi was really good with the gochujang chili sauce and sesame seeds.  There was a good amount piled on the fries, and the meat was very tender.  The only downside to this dish was the kimchi.  Now, I’m not a kimchi expert/Korean, but this kimchi was very bland even though it had been mixed in with the gochujang.  I thought that the sour cream drizzle brought more to the table as a cooling element to the savory/spicy elements of the meal than the limp contribution of the fermented cabbage.

Overall, Poutine Factory is a bit pricier than a normal Korean restaurant, but you get a substantial portion of very hearty food.  It was a tasty tribute to the spirit of the Quebecois.   Bon Appetit!

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