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79 A.D. (Always.Delicious.)

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Hello to everyone out there and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Throughout the history of mankind, we have been plagued with many different types of natural disasters:  earthquakes, floods, and volcano eruptions.  The first two events are more common than the last one, but volcanoes seem to hold a special place in the place of the human mind in terms of threats from nature.  They are so unpredictable and powerful like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.  The cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were completely covered in ash, and their inhabitants were flash frozen in lava casts.  What does this have to do with food?  Well, yesternight I tried the best Chicken Vesuvio ever at the oldest  Italian restaurant in Chicago, Italian Village, located at 71 West Monroe Street  Chicago, IL 60603.

italian-village

There are three different sections to the restaurant, and each area has its own theme.  Even though it may sound a bit tacky/kitschy, we ended up dining in the quaint “Village” room upstairs.  It was decorated with white lights strung across the ceiling like a big famiglia party I saw in San Gimignano, Italy, and there were mini village buildings along the walls that I assumed you could eat inside for an extra fee.

Che romantico

Che romantico

Upon looking at the menu, I could see that the establishment definitely was well stocked with plenty of Italian American favorites like different types of Parmesans and stuffed pastas.  We even received the typical basket of pane italiano and crispy breadsticks without butter.  The olive oil and Parmesan cheese they provided at the table were high quality and made a great combo with the fresh, semi-crusty bread.  Between bites of the delicious carbs, I saw they served a classic Chicago Italian-American dish:  Chicken Vesuvio.  If I was going to dine at the oldest Italian restaurant in Chicago, I might as well get a meal invented in the same city. This dish also had to cook for thirty minutes, so I  ordered a glass of the Barbera red wine.  Plus, since I ordered one of the entrees, I had the choice of soup or salad.  I decided to plump for a side salad with ranch dressing.  The salad itself was nothing special.IMG_1082 It had the typical mix of lettuce, mixed greens, a tomato slice, julienned carrots, and just the right amount of semi-watery Ranch.  I was surprised for how fast they delivered the salad to me that the vegetables were so fresh and delicious.  Perhaps they don’t prefabricate their salads and are just speed demons on the cook line.

Cooking as good as nonna's

Cooking as good as nonna’s

After waiting patiently, my Chicken Vesuvio came out. I was face to face with half a chicken and roasted potato wedges.  Both the potatoes and chicken were herb encrusted, deep brown, and cavorting with each other in a delicious pool of herbs and chicken drippings.  Sounds kind of like a season of the Jersey Shore.  I decided to scale this gastronomic volcano of deliciousness, and it erupted with flavor from the first bite of a potato wedge.  The tubers were semi-crispy on the outside with hints of rosemary and oregano, and the insides were pure white like the snow of the Italian alps.  As for the chicken, the chicken broth made the meat extra succulent since it was literally falling off the bone.  The best part of the meal was combining the crispy skin with the juicy white meat and dipping it into the broth. My Barbera wine went well with this savory dish even though it wasn’t really red meat.  This Piedmontese libation was slighty acidic but bold; two attributes that really brought out the herbs of the broth and chicken skin.  A word of caution:  there might be some splatter with the broth while you’re cutting the chicken.  So if you’re wearing anything fancy on that first date, don’t get too excited while tucking into this festa italiana.    Once the smoke settled from this smoking cauldron of deliciousness, I was stuffed and satisfied with my choice.

So if you want to experience a piece of authentic Chicago, Italian American cuisine, and/or believe that abbondanza is a virtue in cooking, remember that all roads lead to Italian Village!

Italian Village on Urbanspoon

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Food-Lovers of the World, Unite!

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Привет comrades!  Welcome to a special bday edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be talking about a restaurant that I had walked past about a million times, but I vowed to one day dine there.  Thankfully, my 25th birthday provided a perfect excuse to finally try out the Russian Tea Time Restaurant located at 77 East Adams Street  Chicago, IL 60603.  It is located in a very convenient part of the city and is well-connected with subways and buses.

Now I am a sucker for Russian history since it is filled with so many characters like Peter the Great who was 6’8″ and somehow disguised himself as a common laborer while traveling through different Western European countries to learn new skills, like shipbuilding, in order to modernize Russia.  However, I am not here to give a history lesson, so time to move onto the food.  Upon sitting down, we were greeted by our waiter who was quite pushy in regard to ordering appetizers and drinks.  Not only was the decor fitting for a Russian tea room, but the service was up to Soviet standards.  The waiter’s brusque behavior aside, we did enjoy the complimentary dark rye bread and small salad.  The bread was as dark as ebony and possessed a bold, savory flavor thanks to the caraway and spices in the dough.   As for the salad, the greens were fresh, and the dressing was a very sweet vinaigrette that enhanced the lettuce, chard, cabbage, and tomatoes.  Naturally, our waiter was back and quadruple checking to see if we were ready to order, so I got down to business and ordered the Shashlik with chicken.IMG_0953

Now, most people would be intimidated by the sound of something as foreign as Shashlik, but it is quite a simple dish.  All it consists of is large, boneless chunks of chicken skewered and roasted over a fire while being rubbed down with a simple marinade that can vary from chef to chef.  With my dish, the chicken was served on a fluffy white bed of rice pilaf and accompanied with a miniature mound of carrot salad and tomato sauce.  Even though I was a bit bummed out that the chicken was not served to me on the skewers (lawsuits can take the fun out of certain things), I was still blown away at how tasty it was.  The chicken pieces had a homemade flavor to them because each bite had a bit of a charred aftertaste, and my favorite part was the occasional citrus note that would sneak onto my palate like some sort of KGB operative making a dead drop of deliciousness.  Plus, there were grilled onion sprigs on top of the chicken like small, flavorful, wispy clouds hanging about the Ural  mountain peaks. As for the rice pilaf, I was indifferent to it, but it was enhanced by the tomato sauce that was slightly spicy and chock full o’ Uzbek goodness.  When I saw the carrot salad, I wasn’t sure what to expect since it just looked like an orange mini-haystack hanging out next to the gigantic serving of meat and starch on my plate.  However, it was the most interesting part of the meal because although the carrots were soaked in a semi-sweet dressing, they still managed to maintain their crunchiness.  This switch in textures only enhanced my meal, and surprisingly the typical overpowering taste of the carrots was not overwhelming thanks to the sugary dressing.  Once I finished all of this food, I braced myself for an after dinner treat that would only seem normal in a Russian restaurant:  a vodka flight.

A Russian liquid blanket for those cold nights

A Russian liquid blanket for those cold nights

Since we were in a Russian restaurant, I naturally would not waste my money on a mixed drink or a beer, so I was happy to see that Russian Tea Time embraced and promoted probably the most important and celebrated drink in Russian and  Slavic history.  They have three different types of flights which consist of three 1 ounce shots, and they are all themed.  I ordered the Molotov Cocktail flight which contained honey-pepper, Absolut pepper, and horseradish vodka.  My friend got the house flight which had lime, caraway, and black currant vodka.  The waiter also brought some black rye and pickles to chase the vodka and drink in the traditional Russian fashion that includes smelling the bread, offering a toast, and pounding the shot.  Out of my shots, the worst one was the horseradish one because it combined two quite potent flavors in one shot.  The horseradish burned my sinuses and the vodka burned on the way down…definitely a shot reserved for the only the staunchest of revolutionaries.  Thankfully they gave us plenty of bread and pickles to combat the alcohol equivalent of a Kalashnikov round to my mouth.  As for the house flight, I enjoyed the lime vodka the most while the caraway just tasted terrible.  I think that they should keep the caraway just in the bread and not the liquor.  Funny enough at the end of meal, my waiter asked me if I was Russian or Ukrainian, and I told him I was Polish.  Immediately, he went from being a semi-jerk to quite friendly, and after a couple of Polish phrases, he bid us goodnight.  I still don’t think it made up for his service where he was trying to hustle us all night.

So if you’re looking to try some new food or just want to warm up with some tea or vodka, come on down to Russian Tea Time. You’ll see that Russian food has more to offer than just potatoes, fish, and vodka, and it’s actually so filling and tasty that it can make you dance better than the  late, “great” former Russian president Boris Yeltsin (R.I.P.). Na zdorovye!

Russian Tea Time on Urbanspoon

Russian Tea Time on Foodio54

Not the Wurst Joint I’ve Been To

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Hello to everyone out there in the blogosphere!  Welcome to another classic restaurant review on Mastication Monologues.  Yesterday, I visited  a restaurant in Chicago that is an institution and a symbol of German-American pride in the city.  It is called The Berghoff Restaurant and is located at 17 West Adams Street  Chicago, IL 60603.

In the current landscape of restaurants in America, it seems that there is a huge demand for food that is cutting edge in terms of taste, preparation, and presentation.  Unfortunately, it has come at the expense of the classic ethnic establishments that serve old-world comfort food that may not win any beauty contests, but like Shallow Hal, diners (hopefully) realize that the beauty of these dishes lies within their heartiness, fresh ingredients, and simplicity.  The Berghoff has been in operation since 1898, and as soon as you walk through their stained glass doors you can just feel the history emanating from their rich Mahogany walls.  This connection to the past and traditions is reflected in their menu as it contains many German food staples, and there are other options for those who are not looking to get their Wienerschnitzel on (burgers, sandwiches, salads, and even Tandoori chicken).  I, however, decided to say guten tag to their slow braised drunken ox joints, and I plumped for their Oktoberfest beer to drink since it was on special.  While we were waiting, they provided us with a free bread basket that was great since it contained fresh artisan white bread, rye bread, and a baked flat-bread that had cheese baked into it.  Based off of taste, it probably was Parmesan.

Hello Liebchen

When my ox joints came out, it was tastefully displaced like a mighty meat monarch who sported a crown of sautéed julienned onions and was surrounded by his pumpkin gnocchi minions who were kowtowing to their ruler.  I didn’t waste time tucking into the ox joint, and it was an interesting experience.  First, there was a good amount of fat on one side of the meat which I didn’t mind, but it was quite hard to hold the bone in one place while trying to take the meat off.  Thankfully, the meat was tender and literally falling off the bone which made my job a lot easier.  The meat was covered in a Berghoff bourbon sauce that was like some sort of magical ambrosia that made the beef even more succulent with each bite.  However, after working like an archeologist on the joint, I found out that I was eating meat off of a vertebrae, not a joint.  I don’t know if this is a ploy to give you less meat, but it left me disappointed since a majority of my meal was bone.  Underneath the hockey puck of meat there was a delicate blanket of sautéed Swiss chard that provided a rich, spinachy bite to the savory beef.  The gnocchi were the most interesting part since they were lightly fried, firm, and had a slight pumpkin aftertaste.  Now, I know during Fall people go pumpkin-flavored product crazy, but I definitely don’t fall into that category.  Regardless of my leanings, the fact that the dumplings didn’t overwhelm me with pumpkintastic flavors left me a happy diner.  My Oktoberfest beer was definitely not for the weak stomached since it is similar to the Marzenstyle beers that they serve at the world-famous harvest festival in Germany.  Its reddish-brown hue contained a moderate bitterness that was then followed by a hop aftertaste that left me blown away at its boldness.

Ein Bier mit Attitude

So if you’re looking for eine kleine piece of Deutchland in Chicago, head down to the Berghoff Restaurant.

Berghoff on Urbanspoon

Berghoff on Foodio54

Multum In Parvo

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Hello to all old and new readers of Mastication Monologues!  I have decided to write this blog entry before the overwhelming nature of graduate school manages to kick in and prevents me from even contemplating writing about a restaurant.  This past week has been quite busy gearing up for another semester, but along the way, I had a mini moving adventure with my friend David in downtown Chicago.  After a lot of heavy lifting and a frustrating episode with a U-Haul location on the northside, we finally decided we deserved a bite to eat.  We ended up going to an Italian restaurant called Quartino’s Ristorante and Wine Bar located at 626 North State Street,  Chicago, IL 60654.

My friend David said that I’d like the food since they serve Italian tapas.  Now, after living in Spain and being to Italy numerous times, I didn’t believe that they actually served tapas at an Italian restaurant.  Especially when all of the Italian food I’ve had throughout my life was more about abbondanza and someone telling you to “Mangia Mangia!”  instead of tiny/light portions.  I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the establishment.  We got there at 9 pm, and it was a madhouse with every table filled on the main floor and upstairs.  Obviously, this was a good sign.  So, we quickly got down to business and ordered our entrees:  polenta fries, quattro stagioni pizza, calamari, Tuscan sausage risotto, beef filets, and the organic veal skirt steak.

Fries that will cross your eyes

The polenta fries came out first in a small tin cup wrapped in wax paper that had print on it like newspaper.  This presentation gave it a more street food feel, but the taste was straight from nonna’s kitchen.  The outside breading was crisp and the inside was perfectly seasoned with a pinch of salt.  Thankfully it wasn’t polenta that was too goopy or too dry, but the red pepper sauce on the side was mediocre.  Next came the quattro stagioni pizza.

4 seasons of deliciousness.  Vivaldi would be proud.

It was a moderately sized pizza that had paper-thin, New York style crust that you have to fold in order to keep the toppings from falling all over your shirt.  On top was a thin layer of tomato sauce along with artichokes, roasted peppers, grilled zucchini, Portobello mushrooms, & Grana cheese.  This was probably one of the top dishes of the night (though pizza is one of my favorite foods) since all of the vegetables were fresh, especially the artichokes, and the Grana cheese was thinly sliced over the entirety of the pie which provided a salty kick to the smooth Mozzarella.  The only downside was the integrity of the crust.  The actual bread was delicious and the crunchy crust had a light layer of flour on it, but with every slice that we took, half of the toppings ended up on the pan.  Sorry NY, but I’m just drinking a lot of haterade when it comes to making pizza the right way.  Moving on from regional culinary conflicts, the calamari came out the same time as the pizza, and I wasn’t expecting much out of this dish since I’m not much of a seafood fan.

True fruits of the sea

Thankfully, these calamari rings were partially breaded which allowed the slightly firm squid to shine above the lemon zest, salt, crushed pepper, and buttery breading.  Next came the Tuscan sausage risotto and the beef filets.  With the former, it came out in a little Mount Vesuvius style mound of creamy rice, tomatoes, and peas.  The risotto was extremely rich and dotted with tomatoes that effortlessly blended in with the sauce, and the sausage was portioned out in mini-chunks and was doing a fennel based Tarantella  in my mouth with each bite.  As for the beef filets, they were small medallions of prime meat accompanied by broccoli rabe, red chilis, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil.  The red chilis and garlic mingled with the rabe on top of each slice of the meat like some type of verdant toupee but without any of the awkwardness.  The last plate, the veal skirt steak, was actually a replacement for the pork belly we  originally ordered since they had run out.  It was similar to the beef filets with being grilled to order but was then served with a side of wild Arugala, roasted grape tomatoes, and balsamic syrup.   The salad on the side with the tomatoes and syrup was an interesting mix because the bitterness of the Arugala was wonderfully complimented by dulcet/light undertones of the syrup.

By the end of the meal, I thought that this three-ring food circus was completely over, but my friend’s brother decided to order these Italian donuts called Zeppone.  When they came out, I was overwhelmed at the amount that they gave you for the price and awestruck at how delicious they looked.  They weren’t like the typical doughnuts with the hole in the middle but rather more like mini-Beignets which are served at the world-famous Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.  In addition to these tiny fried pillows of dough sleeping under a thick coating of powdered sugar, we got a dipping bowl of honey and one of chocolate.  These pastries were light, airy, and the chocolate went much better with the buttery dough than the thick and sultry honey.

Che bello!

So if you’re looking for a higher end Italian eatery with a twist on some traditional recipes and serving styles, check out Quartino’s Ristorante and Wine Bar!

Quartino on Urbanspoon

Quartino on Foodio54

“Non, je ne regrette rien”

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Hello to all out there in the blogosphere!  I have just returned from my recent food adventure for my dad’s bday (happy 59th, big guy!) at a local French eatery which I have been to multiple times before but have never written about its delectable Gallic delights.  The restaurant in question is  called Mon Ami Gabi and is located at 260 Oakbrook Center
Oak Brook, IL 60523 in the mall.

Now I have been to France before, and obviously it is kind of hard to recreate that sort of European ambiance in the Midwest.  However, Mon Ami Gabi manages to do a pretty good job at bringing its patrons a different type of eating experience with its rich, dark wood laden interiors, soft lighting, and an intimate patio which would be the perfect setting for any date night.   These elegant surroundings are just one plus of Mon Ami Gabi, and the food is no different.

Simple happiness: bread and butter

For our dinner, we received a complementary mini-baguette with a side of creamy butter and relish.  I don’t know if they make their own bread at the establishment, but it still was very tasty.  The crunchy crust was lightly coated with flour, and the white inside was still slightly warm and pliant which made the butter seep into every square inch of the baguette. As for the relish, as soon as I took a bite I knew that it was made of julienned  green apples due to its tartness and the general appearance of the side, but there was a slight herbal aftertaste to it that I couldn’t put my finger on.  Thankfully our helpful waitress informed me it was fennel of all things. After finally deciding on an appetizer, we went with the baked goat cheese and tomato sauce.  When it came to our table, I wasn’t too happy with the presentation of it because we have ordered it before, and it was served with mini pieces of toast coated in a garlic/pesto mixture.  This time around, the bread element of the dish came as a whole baguette sliced lengthwise which led us to resorting to ripping the bread apart like a bunch of Cro-Magnons.  I don’t know why they changed it from small pieces of bread, but I feel that it is a choice of convenience by the chefs.  Nevertheless, the actual goat cheese was delectable with its creamy texture melding with the smooth tomato sauce to create a warm mousse that provided a somber yin to the more aggressive yang of the garlic/pesto coated bread.

From this tasty beginning, I moved on to the main star of the dinner:  the steak.  I plumped for the steak au poirve  (or pepper steak) with the hand cut house frites.  The meat was grilled exactly to my request with a solid brown hue throughout and a slight pink inside.  The peppercorns were quite potent and supplied the thin gravy with a much needed kick to highlight the high quality texture and rich meaty flavor of the steak.

I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy

As for the frites, I didn’t eat all of them since I was saving room for dessert, but from the few that I actually did try, they were not like regular french fries at any restaurant.  They looked like shoestring potatoes on steroids with a bit of a curl from Arby’s curly fries, and the actual body had the consistency of a normal French fry.  They were not over or under fried, and the insides were white and fluffy.

The end of this three ring circus culminated with the highly decadent vanilla bread pudding.  Not only was it infused with minced vanilla beans which dotted its borders like black spots on an ermine cape, but also like Louis XIV it was adorned with an over-sized crown of vanilla ice-cream and chains of golden caramel.

*Drool*. That is all

Its flavors lived up to its regal appearance as the pudding was slightly firm and warm which formed a divine pairing with the slightly melted vanilla ice cream and caramel.  Even though I ate all of this food and finished off the meal with a flourish, I was not stuffed which also speaks to the French culinary tradition of quality over quantity.

So if you’re looking for a new place to try French food, put aside your fears of frog legs and snooty waiters and try Mon Ami Gabi.  You won’t regret it!

Mon Ami Gabi on Urbanspoon

Mon Ami Gabi on Foodio54

The Quay to a Man’s Heart Is Through His Stomach

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Hello everyone once again in the blogosphere to another addition to Mastication Monologues.  Unfortunately, it has been hotter than the inside of a Pepperoni Hot Pocket as of late in the Chicagoland area.  So while lurking about in my air-conditioned cocoon known as my house, I decided I might as well write about a delightful restaurant I visited a few weeks ago.  A friend, Maria Jose, was in town from New York, and she decided she wanted to try out this new place called Quay (pronounced “key” not “kway”; confusing, I know).  It is located at 465 East Illinois Street  Chicago, IL 60611 in the River East building.  Unbeknownst to me, I would be pleasantly surprised by her suggestion.

First, I was surprised at the location because I remember during my childhood the River East building being a hollow shell of an edifice mainly housing empty storefronts with the occasional video game arcade or art gallery, but it functioned mainly as a mooring hub for boats making their way out to the lake/Navy Pier.  Therefore, when I showed up to a buzzing and elegant restaurant with al fresco dining, I was gobsmacked.  There is valet parking for 12 dollars and is valid all night (I opted for this option), or you can park in the parking garage across the street.  As we entered, the decor of the restaurant was very sleek and modern with softer lighting in the bar area, and the staff were very friendly.

The main dining room.

We first split a bottle of Tangley Oaks, a Merlot from Napa which was a soft, full-bodied wine that was not too overwhelming (mind you, I am not a sommelier by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a pleasant compliment to my meal).  The menu boasted a variety of American options (steak, burgers), French cuisine (Tarte Flambe, Lamb au Poirve), and Italian cooking (Suckling Pig Porchetta, Insalata Caprese).  For dinner, I decided to order the Spring Risotto which contained fava beans, english peas, braised radish, spring onions pecorino pepato, and truffled nettle puree.  Unfortunately, I was unable to take a picture of this tiny masterpiece, but it was elegantly presented on a simple white plate along with a drizzling of olive oil and a very dark vinaigrette to provide a bit of slightly bitter bite to the risotto.  The actual rice dish was very nicely balanced as the rice was not too soggy which sometimes can happen to cream-based rice dishes.  Another part of the dish that I enjoyed was the fact that all of the ingredients weren’t simply assimilated into the flavor background.  The english peas were served whole and not mashed contrary to their English heritage.  I am a huge fan of onions, and the spring onions strangely gave the risotto a slightly sweet aftertaste now and then which made me excited to explore more of the nooks and crannies in this mini-mound of goodness.  The pecorino pepato (peppered Italian cheese for those of you who don’t parla italiano) was lightly grated in thin, snow-white slices and perched gently atop Montecello Risotto.   This cheese lived up to its peppery name, but it was not very spicy for those worried about mouth scorching foods.  Plus, the heat of the risotto melted the cheese slightly which made it easier to mix into the rice and integrate it with the other flavors on my palate.

Whilst I was greatly enjoying myself, my friend Maria Jose had a slightly different dining experience.  She ordered the Oven Roasted Sea Bass with a side of grilled asparagus as a substitution for the baby spinach at no extra charge.  Upon tucking into the verdant and evenly grilled and seasoned spears, she found a small amount of hair.  She brought this up to our waiter who was visibly disturbed at this discovery, but he was a gentleman about it and the manager apologized/covered Maria Jose’s meal.  Our waiter even went above and beyond general hospitality and allowed us access to the lounge/bar in the back section of the restaurant even though there was a private function.  It has a lovely view of the Chicago River along with very tasteful furniture and a classy bar area.

The spacious lounge at the back of the restaurant

Upon returning to our table, we finished our main courses and split one of their special desserts for the night:  ice cream sandwiches made with homemade dark chocolate cookies and banana gelato on the inside along with a side of raspberry compote.  These small sandwiches lived up to the Latin phrase “Multum in Parvo” (A lot of stuff in a little package).  They were probably only as big as silver dollars, but the chocolate from the cookies meshed perfectly with the banana gelato to create a classier version of eating frozen chocolate bananas on a stick.  The raspberries also served as a subtle contrast to these two sweet elements with a  slightly sour contribution to the dessert course.

On the whole, I would recommend Quay to anyone who is looking to try out a new restaurant/bar/lounge in the Streeterville area for  a lunch or dinner before Navy Pier, a pre-movie meal, or just looking for a new place to expand your gastronomic horizons.  Even if your visit may seem like it is teetering on the verge of becoming un Inferno like ours was, the helpful staff and delicious food can definitely leave you feeling like you’re in Paradiso.

but leave molto felice. Eyyyy!

You may come in as happy as Dante…

Quay on Urbanspoon

Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker

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To those who actually got the Willy Wonka reference in my title, bravi, for I was figuratively transported to a restaurant that was a veritable horn o’ plenty of delicious food and exquisite beers.  I received my golden ticket to this factory of culinary wonders, Owen and Engine which is located at 2700 N Western Ave Chicago, IL, from my friends Eileen and Justine.  They were playing it up for a long time about how wonderful the dishes are, so we decided to take a journey there in order for me to see if this truly was the Shangri-La of sustenance they were making it out to be.

At first, Owen and Engine did not grab my attention immediately as the façade of the building was a simple one, but upon entering it seemed like any pub I’ve been to in London or in the UK in general, classy and understated.  However, I was generally worried due to the Hipster-ish attire of the hostess/waiters/bartenders (i.e. vintage flannels, Ray-Ban wayfarers, and ironic facial hair), but once I was seated my fears were allayed due to the genuine passion our waiter had for their beers.  Once he was done rattling off 25 different beers of the day, he thankfully explained the menu due to the fact that there were certain items that I never even heard of but of course was going to try.

For starters, I went with the Old Rasputin Imperial Stout which definitely did not taste as nefarious as its namesake nor gave me free reign over the Russian Empire while wooing the czarina (unfortunately).  However, it definitely gained a special place in my heart due to its deep black coloring that belied its heavy dark chocolate and bitter aftertaste.

Привет Rasputin!

As for my meal, I plumped for the pork rillette (for those who don’t  of what this is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rillettes)

Bonjour ma rillette!

that was served with whole wheat flatbreads seasoned with sea salt and the beef carpaccio which was garnished with rocket and olive oil.  As for the other lovely ladies at my table, Eileen went with the gnocchi (a gutsy move for ordering Italian food at an English pub), and Justine decided on a safer but equally tasty steak sandwich.  Plus, they ordered a tub of squeak (or mashed potatoes for those on the westside of the Atlantic) for everyone to share.

The thumbs up for gnocchi with the squeak on the side

When my food came out, I initially thought that I had received the short end of the stick since my orders seemed to be lacking the body and presentation of the ladies’ dishes.  I started my meal with the beef carpaccio.  It was absolutely delectable as the lightly seasoned, juicy beef was sliced paper-thin, almost to the point of falling apart on my fork.  The rocket and olive oil provided a fresh herbal aftertaste to the savory meat.  On the whole, it was a lot more filling than I expected.

Up Close and Carpaccio

As for my pork rillette, I was definitely surprised to see the overall presentation since I was expecting more pork than flatbread.  I can only liken the actual rillette to a thick, coarse butter that tasted like pork chops, and the sweet pickles provided a sugary contrast to the salty flatbread/pork.  This dish, however, was not my favorite as the flatbreads quickly became a thorn in my side due to the fact that they were VERY liberally coated with raw sea salt.  Before long, my tongue felt like it was turning into beef jerky, so I would advise those who don’t enjoy really salty food to avoid the rillette flatbreads.  After tasting these two debutants, I managed to get a sample of the gnocchi that really blew me away at how molto bene it really was.  The dumplings were lightly buttered with oregano garnishes, and it was ramped up to the next echelon with the use of smoked bacon chunks to give them a meaty body to round out the flavor (definitely not the soggy tater tots I was expecting them to pass off as authentic gnocchi).  As for Justine’s steak sandwich, it was quite hearty with a refined flavor due to the balance of beef with the zesty horseradish mayo.

Justine's AZN pose with STEAK!

The high quality meat possessed a smidgen of fat to make the sandwich sizzle with flavor.  As always, I saved the best for last:  the squeak.  It seemed like just a simple bowl of mashed potatoes with chives on the top, but as soon as I took a bite…I was in ecstasy.  Need I say more? (just for posterity’s sake, the potatoes were churned to perfection with bacon, cheese, and a certain je ne sais quoi.  Definitely the dark horse of the dinner that outshone the other dishes).

The end of the meal was quite enjoyable since we somehow managed to get a free dessert just because Justine is such a baller and knows everyone there.  It ended up being this chocolate beer based mousse souffle which had a triangle of chocolate rice crispies driven into its center like some sort of beautiful sail on a catamaran of sugary paradise.  Plus, the souffle was flanked by two espresso syrup flourishes on the plate which gave the cake underneath the mousse more of a tiramisu consistency/flavor.  I don’t know if they offer this dessert on the usual menu, but the chocolate beer combined exquisitely with the moist, coffee laden cake underneath to leave my palate in some sort of Frapuccino-esque heaven (don’t sue me, Starbucks, por favor).

Deliciousness Incarnate

Once we paid our bill, we bellied up to the bar to delve further into this veritable beer treasure trove.  Our bartender was named Charlie (who bore an eerie resemblance to a grown up Charlie Bucket from Willy Wonka which made me believe he somehow inherited this amazing restaurant from an eccentric Gene Wilder-type beer wizard after going on a tour which included feeling the furry wallpaper-walk upstairs and you’ll see what I mean), but I digress and then some.  However, he was very knowledgeable being a certified cicerone (the beer version of a sommelier).  I was taken aback when he asked me what I liked in a beer, and like a trained Spider monkey, scurried about and brought out two bottles that I would proceed to drink that night solely chosen off my criteria of a full-bodied, bitter, dark ale.  My first brew was Ola Dubh which hails from mighty Scotland.

Where Ya Hail From Laddy?

The name, funny as it may look, actually means “Black Oil”, and it certainly lived up to its moniker as it looked like I was literally drinking crude oil.  Even though it seemed to be terrible based on looks alone, the taste was quite robust and bitter which was further enhanced by placing a candle underneath it to warm it in order to further open up the hops which normally leads to a better aftertaste.  My second choice was a Nut Brown ale which was not as strong as the first since it didn’t look like something I’d drill from the ground in Venezuela, but it was a very warm beer that had chestnut undertones and a slight bitter aftertaste.

I'm Just a Squirrel Looking for a Nut

As for the nightcap, I tried the Hoss beer which was a pale ale that was the complete opposite of how I started since it was a light translucent yellow with a taste of grass and a hint of lemon that gave the beverage a light and clean finish.

In the long and stout of it all (beer pun intended), Owen and Engine definitely got me revved up to return as soon as possible due to its intimate atmosphere, great food choices made with only the finest ingredients, friendly/knowledgable staff, and the astronomically long list of artisanal beers from all over the world.

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