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Cinful Prices but a Heavenly View (Cindy’s)

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Ah, another quarter done in my speech pathology program.  It has probably been the most challenging quarters so far, but I came out on the other side ready for another quarter of growth.  Plus, Summer has finally arrive in Chicago.  While I am more of a fan of winter since I am part White Walker as well as a weirdo,

If you squint closely, you might see me

I do enjoy all of the great activities the city offers when the sun is shining and everyone is out of hibernation mode.  Today’s post is a little delayed but better late than never!

While New York is often known for its skyscrapers as well as their 9/11 tower that took away the Sears Tower’s status as the tallest building in America, skyscrapers were invented in Chicago all the way back in 1884/1885.  Between then and now, we have gotten enough practice constructing these towering behemoths to include elements of work and play.  Enter Cindy’s, a.k.a. the jewel of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel.

PC: Chicago Architecture Association

This establishment did not exist back in 1893 when some of the biggest names in Chicago and world industry such as Marshall Field, Cyrus McCormack, and William Wrigley (the very same as the gum company) came together to create the Chicago Athletic Association.  Mr. Wrigley even went on to adopt the association’s logo to be the symbol for a certain Northside baseball team that just broke a 108 year World Series curse.

Not too subtle, eh? PC: LoopChicagoBlog

It became a hub for the richest socialites to get their sweat on as well as some of the biggest athletes from the turn of the early 20th century such as Johnny Weissmuller who went gold five times in Olympic swimming and also was Tarzan.  It was a male-only club up until 1975, but by then it was a slowly decaying institution that eventually closed in 2007.  Thankfully, a hotel consortium reopened the doors to the new Chicago Athletic Association Hotel where they restored the edifice to its former glory and then some to create a feast for the eyes.

The ballroom staircase and event room with a recreated plaster ceiling (right) PC: Chicago Architecture Association

I had never been to this hotel even though I’ve lived here all my life, but as always, my fiancée Janice/her friends managed to find a new brunch place to check out.  It was a beautiful day to enjoy the view from Cindy’s where we could look out over Millenium Park and the harbor.  It is one of the most popular skyscraper balconies in the city, so I highly recommend you make reservations.  However, based on our experience, we were not sure why it is so in demand as a brunch venue aside from its ultramodern design.  We were sat at a low bench table with a box for a table.

Plenty of room for tiny Jan Jan

We looked over the menu to find a variety of drinks and breakfast staples such as pancakes and eggs Benedict but with ridiculous prices even for sharable dishes.  25 bucks for a yogurt parfait?  Unless it came served in the holy grail, a bowl of yogurt should never cost that much.  The cocktails were not up to snuff either since their old fashion ($16) was oddly sour and my Moody Tongue porter ($25) was strangely tinny tasting.  Maybe it was an off day, but the wait staff was also not very attentive since it took a good while to get our server to exchange our drinks for better made ones.  Then there was the food.  It was the best part of the experience aside from the seating arrangement.  Our group ended up sharing a cast iron quiche Lorraine ($34), croque madame ($30), and cast iron chilaquiles ($29).  There was a lot of food that eventually was brought out to our table, but the quality still wasn’t worth the exorbitant prices.  Plus, the seating arrangement was not ideal for taller patrons like yours truly.  I say this because my knees were level with the low box table which meant I had to lean forward and downward to an extreme degree  in order to avoid spilling my food. Out of the three dishes we sampled, the chilaquiles were the best followed by the croque madame, and then the quiche.  The chilaquile’s mixture of eggs, chorizo, crema, and peppers were a much-needed punch of Latin american flavor and spice for an otherwise mild brunch.  The croque madame is a French invention originally named the croque monsieur.  The name croque monsieur roughly translates to “Mr. Bite” because it was originally designed to be a cafe sandwich to be quickly eaten in Parisian cafes.  The croque madame was a riff on the croque monsieur when a fried egg was placed atop its brioche top slice.  The floppy egg was said to resemble an old-fashioned lady’s hat, hence the “Madame” moniker.  At Cindy’s, we had many ladies in our presence with how many eggs were residing on our sandwich.  The sandwich was extremely rich and buttery with the melted Gruyère cheese and bechamel sauce, and the ham brought a very slight smoky element to the flavor profile.

So much ham hanging out with some rogue chilaquiles

The frisee salad on the side was less a side salad and more of an ornamental lawn to this monstrous mansion of meat.  This would be an idea meal for a powerlifter who needs a ton of protein really quickly after working out at the Athletic club in the hotel.  As for the quiche, this Middle Ages classic brought the original recipe back to life with plenty of egg custard, bacon, cheese, and onions.  I’m not a big egg fan, so this plate was lower on my list.  Janice loves eggs more than I do, and she said it was okay but not great.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend Cindy’s for brunch, but it would be a great place to grab drinks before going out on the town on the Mag Mile, a night-cap at 2 am on Saturdays, or some hair of the dog the following Sunday morning.  Now go out there and enjoy summertime in Chicago for all it’s worth!
Cindy's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Getting My Goat On

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Welcome to another chapter in the Mastication Monologues saga!  Today’s restaurant review takes us to one of the newer but highly regarded eateries in Chicago in the West Loop:  Girl and the Goat.  I had heard so many great things about famed chef, Stephanie Izard.  According to the website, “Izard is name of goat in the Pyrenees”; hence the name of the restaurant.  Looking beyond their rustic take on English on their website, their food was king or perhaps queen of the mountain.IMG_4035

The interior was bumping when I went there around dinnertime for a double date.IMG_4030  Servers were buzzing by as we checked in for our reservation.  There was a bit of a wait, so we grabbed drinks and took in the entire experience.  From the sleekly designed interior to the open cook line, it was like poetry in motion everywhere I looked.  IMG_4037IMG_4036IMG_4034It only whetted my appetite even more for the upcoming meal.  Eventually we were seated and the madness began.  With a tumbler of whiskey in hand, we looked over the menu to see some common items like olives or steak tartare, but then there were crazy things like duck tongues or pig face. IMG_4039 Mind you, the menu is on a rotating basis, so you might be privy to some dishes I never saw on the menu.  We went crazy ordering once our server came over however.  The journey began with a sun-dried tomato bread boule that came with a side of vinegar seasoned corn relish and savory butter with a garlic infusion. IMG_4042 This typical carb starter got us off on the right foot as it was warm, oh-so-soft, and bursting with the taste of fresh tomatoes.IMG_4044  Then for actual dishes, the Girl and the Goat focus on more tapas-esque presentation and portion sizes which means that each selection is meant to be shared amongst all the people at the table.  Ergo, we ordered things that everyone wanted to try.  First, seafood.  We got the raw kusshi oysters with muscatel mignonette and tarrgon along with the wood fired blue point oysters with horseradish, bacon, and preserved lemon.

Kusshi oysters

Kusshi oysters

This was a historical foodie moment for me since it was the first time trying oysters.  While I heard from some people that they tasted like snot going down, I found them to slide right down without any sort of trepidation from my palate.  They didn’t need to be chewed or anything, so I don’t know what those other diners’ problems were.  I personally preferred the wood fired oysters because they were slightly warm along with a nice sinus-tickling horseradish kick.

Woodpoint fired oysters

Woodpoint fired oysters

While we were partying under the sea with the super shellfish, the steak tartare wraps came out.  If you just saw “steak” and “wrap”, the “tartare” part means that the meat was raw inside.IMG_4047  However, that doesn’t mean that it’s unsafe to eat.  In fact, these nibbles were quite light at delicious.  The lettuce leaves were super fresh, and the pieces of red meat were accompanied by some tempura flakes and another corn relish that provided a texture contrast to the tender steak and crunchy tempura batter. IMG_4048 Along with this hands-on dish, we got an order of squash blossom rangoon with wasabi garlic chive yogurt and sliced almonds ($13). IMG_4049IMG_4050 I think these fried gourds were a bit over the top with their cheesy interiors.  IMG_4051It seemed to simply be a high-falutin version of common jalapeno poppers, and they were quite primitive in comparison to the other dishes we tried before.  The duck tongues ($16) that came next were anything but ordinary. IMG_4052 While everyone at the table was disgusted yet slightly curious when I ordered this dish, I was curious to see if it was going to be different from my experiences with duck tongues in Taiwan and China.  Lo and behold, it was since they were neither simply cooked nor still sticking in a duck’s head.  Instead, they were fried and arranged into a mini-mountain over a tuna and black bean poke that was negligible, but the spicy piri-piri bird’s eye pepper (similar to the one at Nando’s in the UK) from Mozambique really kicked these tongues up a notch in terms of flavor.  Plus, my formerly squeamish dining companions found them to be quite pleasant since they melted in your mouth and didn’t feel like you were making out with Donald Duck.  After that bizarre treat, we came back to reality with an order of ham frites ($7) with sides of smoked tomato aioli (literally: “garlic oil” in Catalan) and cheddar beer sauce.  IMG_4053These smoky, savory taters were finger licking good especially with the cheddar beer sauce and powdered ham that took these common bar items to a new level of haute cuisine.  If this redesigned ‘Murikan favorite got my palate amped up, the spring onion potstickers ($15) were a Far East fusion creation to cool it down.  IMG_4054It was served at room temperature, and the fried dough was extra delicate.IMG_4058  Along with that, the dandelion greens and sunflower seeds created many earthy tones as I took down each one.  All of these were leading up to the piece de resistance, the crisped braised pork shank ($25). IMG_4057 Not only was this thing monstrous, but it also came with sides I would have never expected:  Indian naan bread, buttermilk dressing, peach kimchi, and a pepper sauce.  I almost felt like young King Arthur with the sword in the stone, and I took my Excalibur with great aplomb. IMG_4063 The meat fell off the bone, and it was mind-blowingly succulent.  Each strand combined with the golden crispy skin to create a legendary dish that I will never forget.  The naan was fresh, but I didn’t think it really fit in with the other ingredients.  The kimchi peaches somewhat made sense since it was a sour/sweet element to cut through the savory and slightly greasy meat.  The pepper sauce was good but not great.

It gone!

It gone!

As if you thought this was the end to the food madness, the pork belly and scallops came out.  I tried a minuscule portion of the pork belly, and it would have been great if my stomach wasn’t stretched to bursting.IMG_4066  Perhaps for next time.  The lobster was quite sweet while the crab seemed to be a better compliment to the lean pork.  As for the scallops, I can’t really comment on them because I was absolutely stuffed, but their presentation was pleasing to the eye.  Plus, the scallops were quite hefty for the price.IMG_4068

So in closing, if you want to try one of Chicago’s most highly vaunted restaurant, bring your piggy bank and then some because it isn’t cheap.  However, it is high quality food with moderately large portions compared to other similarly prestigious eateries.   Ergo, you should get down to Girl and the Goat ASAP.

Girl & the Goat on UrbanspoonIz

The Upper Crust

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Italy is a country known for many cultural exports that range from supercars, beautiful people, political corruption with a real flourish, and a culinary legacy without equal.  From my own backyard to the other side of the world, I have seen variations on some well known Italian specialties like pizza along with some new inventions like the Italian beef sandwich.  A new food superstore called Eataly arrived in Chicago a few years ago and is the figurative baby of famed, Croc-donning chef Mario Batali.  There are currently locations all over the world in Chicago, NYC, Japan, Istanbul, Dubai, and of course, Italy. I had previously spoken with friends and family about their experiences within the establishment, and I heard nothing but rave reviews.  After waiting way too long to finally see what all the hubbub was about, I finally made the trek with my lovely girlfriend, Janice.

It was overwhelming right from the beginning as we walked through the monstrously large glass doors. IMG_3569 Not only that, but Eataly was dedicated to the one and only Ernest Hemingway.  Apparently Papa spent a good amount of time in the Veneto region of Italy which is known for its bountiful food and drink.IMG_3586  Then again, it made me think of the litany of restaurants and watering holes throughout the world that try to cash in on Hemingway’s legacy. IMG_3572 Oh well, I don’t think Eataly was having many problems with business as hordes of people were streaming through the doors and buzzing about the interior as I looked in awe at the cathedral of food that towered before me.  Fresh plums and nectarines lay in front of me as we passed them to the escalator to start on the second floor.  We passed each section that was devoted to a certain part of the Italian culinary landscape like pasta, fish, fried food, bread, cheese, meat and wine.  IMG_3570It looked like all of the produce was kept to the first floor while the second floor was solely devoted to the restaurant portion of the store.  It was like an elite food court where you could go from counter to counter and pay for top notch service and foodstuffs, way too many to enumerate here.IMG_3571  So, I’ll just tell you about what Janice and I tried during our visit.  We settled on the popular pizza and pasta section of the second floor and were immediately seated in front of one of the expansive windows over looking Rush Street.  It was a perfect seat for our date, so hint hint to all you couples out there.10392551_10104334278063879_9013471860543625337_n10425370_10104334278323359_9161369142543183651_n  Our waiter was quite helpful in explaining the menu options while supplying us with complimentary pieces of bread and a plate of olive oil.IMG_3573  This definitely wasn’t Papa Joe’s in terms of the pre-meal munchies, but the bread was delicious.  The edges were crusty and crunchy, and the dough was pliable and had a slightly nutty flavor.  The olive oil was quite smooth on the palate.  I wish they brought out some balsamico as well.  After looking over the menu with lots of deliberation, we settled on sharing the Genovese pizza ($18).

According to the website, at Eataly they only utilize Neapolitan pizza making techniques that one can watch before it comes to the table.  We decided to take in the view instead before as our 12″ pie was delivered to our table. IMG_3574 Looking at it, it was more reminiscent of the pizzas I had in Italy or even New York.  Our waiter said that due to the delicate crust, it was recommended that we use knives and forks to consume the mouth-watering looking pieces.  So we naturally obliged, but we still thought you could eat it with your hands if you don’t feel like putting on airs.  Regardless of others perceptions, we tucked into our meal.  The dough was delicate but with plenty of artisanal flour flavor with a slightly buttery hint.  IMG_3578As for the toppings, there was a generous layer of mozzarella cheese across said crust and topped with a mix of the aforementioned olive oil, tidbits of salty and slightly fatty Parma ham, rich and zesty pine nut pesto, bits of aromatic basil, and diced garlic cloves.  All of these elements came together to make one of the best thin crust pizzas I’ve ever tried.  I normally don’t like crusts, but this pizza’s end pieces were light and chewy which I prefer over their crunch counterparts (this also applies to my cookie affinities).10464354_10104334278473059_7202246310904679489_n  Once we finished that, we moseyed down to the first floor for dessert at, where else?, the Nutella bar. IMG_3580 If you don’t know what Nutella is, it’s the choice snack spread of the gods.  While the British have marmite and Australians have vegemite, once again the Italians outcook them with this sweet, molto chocolately, hazelnut-based topping for bread, toast, and other items.  We could have gone for the gelato or candy counter, but the Nutella bar landed us with their large tubs of the dark chocolate nectar and circular griddles for nutella stuffed crepes.IMG_3581  They had a good amount of Nutella inspired items, but I knew what I wanted:  il bacio di dama ($4.80; literally:  the lady’s kiss).  Fitting for my date.  Janice got the saccottino con Nutella ($3.80).  When we got our individual noms, we couldn’t find a spot to sit down since it was so jammed, but luckily a guy who reminded me of Bill Cosby offered to scoot down so we could sit at the communal tables.  My plate consisted of two hazelnut cookies with a thin layer of Nutella in between. IMG_3584 From the first to last nibble, it was a flavorful pleasure like shifting through the gears on a Murcielago through the hills of Tuscany.  The cookies were soft, fresh, and nutty which balanced out the sweet innards. IMG_3585 As for Janice’s saccottino, it was a pastry made with croissant dough that had an extremely thick schmeer of the hazelnut topping that bordered on the obscene. IMG_3583 I’d recommend they cut down on the Nutella, or you get a drink to go with this dessert.  Perhaps that is all part of their scheme for you to buy more merchandise since half way through it it felt like I was eating a ball of glue coated in chocolate.  It was tasty nevertheless.

In summary, Eataly is a wonderful place for foodie and tourists alike, but it’s not the cheapest place in the world to experience all of Chicago’s culinary potential.  That is not to say though that you will be ripped off since everything is extremely high quality for the price.  I finally visited it, but I don’t know if it will be a regular haunt on my food list in Chicago.

Eataly on Urbanspoon

How I Learned to Stop Wondering and Love the Bomb

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Ah the sandwich.  One of the most simple yet fluid concepts in food.  Food has long been enveloped or contained in some sort of bread in various cultures across the world, but the actual word can be traced to 18th century England.  Edward Gibbons states that John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich, would ask for his meat to be between slices of bread, so he could eat with his hands while playing cards and not get the cards dirty.  Eventually, people began to ask for their meals, “The same as Sandwich”, and a new word entered the English language.  Today, there are a million ways to put one together that range from the classic peanut butter and jelly to the straight up bizarre.  Today’s edition of Mastication Monologues features a Mexican twist on the food staple in the form of Cemitas Puebla in Chicago.

This eatery in Humboldt Park has received its fair share of publicity after appearing on the Food Network, PBS’s Check Please, and the Hungry Hound a.k.a. Steve Dolinsky from ABC 7 news.  Surprisingly, given that this establishment is located in the heart of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community, it is purely Mexican, specifically from the state of Puebla.  The exterior blends into the neighborhood, and the interior is just as simple.IMG_3557  I went there around lunch, and it was hopping.  The line was moderately long, but the cooks knew how to hustle.  Looking over the menu, the cemitas were dominant, but there were other dishes like tacos, enchiladas, chalupas, and quesadillas to name a few.  I was determined to see what made these south-of-the-border super sandwiches were made of.  I decided to speak in Spanish with the lady at the cash register to maybe get a bit of extra info that the gringos wouldn’t get.  I was torn between the pata (cow foot) or the atomica (atomic) cemita, but the lady recommended the atomica because the cow foot wasn’t very popular and lower quality.  Taking her word for it, I put down $9 for the atomica cemita and a small agua de jamaica to drink ($1.25).

While waiting for my meal, the cashier got my drink from the back freezer along with a couple of squeeze bottles.  She set them down, and I asked about the different salsas in the bottles.  While the two clear ones were filled with some sort of red and green sauces, the woman pointed out the bright yellow bottle of sauce would go the best with the cemita.  I thanked her for the info started sipping on my drink.  Agua de jamaica (literally:  water of hibiscus) is a tea that can be served either hot or cold, the latter in this case, and is an infusion of hibiscus flowers and a bit of sugar.IMG_3564  It’s a great drink for a hot day with a hint of sweetness in each sip, and it has anti-oxidant properties that can lessen the effects of hypertension.  Finally, the star of the show emerged from the grill, and was brought to my table with minimal fanfare.  I was taken aback by how large the sandwich was for the price I paid and then pondered how to tackle this monstrosity?IMG_3559 The atomica consisted of breaded pieces of milanesa (breaded pork), carne enchilada (chili seasoned meat), and jamon (ham).  This meat parade was further accented with adobo chipotle peppers, Oaxacan cheese, and fresh papalo or a green herb used for seasoning. IMG_3560 I took my first bite that consisted me of unhinging my jaws like a reticulated python around a baby hippo, and it truly was a weapon of mass deliciousness. The bun was moderately toasted with a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds on top, and it was strong enough throughout the meal to keep these ingredients in check and not on my pants.  Each layer of meat moved from strength to strength as the jamon was salty to compliment the milanesa breading while the breading provided a crunchy contrast to the soft carne enchilada.  I loved the stretchy Oaxacan cheese that was plentiful along with the chunks of creamy avocado.  The papalo was there, but I personally didn’t think it brought much to the table flavor and texture-wise.  Once I was acquainted with my new sandwich friend, I decided to try some of the sauces on the table.  I began with the recommended cemita sauce, and it was a peppery adobo that had a robust, peppery bite to add a savory dimension to the sandwich.IMG_3563  I moved on to the green sauce that had an uncanny resemblance to boogers, but it thankfully didn’t taste the same. IMG_3567 I’d liken it to a flavorful tomatillo salsa with hints of cilantro.  As for the red sauce in the other clear bottle, it was nothing noteworthy.  ‘Twas just another run of the mill tomato based salsa.  Much to my dismay, I wasn’t overly stuffed even though the sandwich probably had over 3,000 calories and could choke a horse.  It was a simple yet thoroughly satisfying lunch.

So if you want to try a unique piece of Mexico beyond tacos and tamales for a reasonable price, check out Cemitas Puebla.

Cemitas Puebla on Urbanspoon

Flippin’ Awesome

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What’s up, everybody?  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I’m going to be talking about a well known player on the Seoul food circuit that I finally managed to hunt down and sink my choppers into:  Butterfinger Pancakes.   I went to the one close to Gangnam station.  Leave the station through exit #6. Walk straight ahead to the first street corner and turn left. It’s about 2 blocks down on the left next to Burger King.  As for the hours, they’re open until 3 a.m. if you’re craving some American breakfast items.IMG_1170

I had always heard that it pretty much was the place to go to get a taste of back home, but that it was always super busy.  The night Steph and I went there was no different.  We went on a Saturday night for dinner, and there still was a 15 minute wait which wasn’t too terrible.IMG_1169  We went up to the top floor, and surprisingly it was filled with mostly Koreans.  Walking past the packed tables, I could see huge plates overflowing with food that the patrons were quickly inhaling like they never saw food before.  Perhaps I would have a similar experience.  I knew Butterfingers meant business when I was face to face with its menu.

I think they're trying to compensate for something.

I think they’re trying to compensate for something.

It literally was larger than life just like their prices which ranged from 10,000 to 30,000 Won.  They had everything from pancakes to make your own omelet options.  I wanted to try a little bit of everything, but I eventually went for the breakfast special (17,000 W) which contained eggs (scrambled/sunny side up/hard boiled), white sausage, ham, sausage links, hash browns, and pancakes with your choice of regular butter or vanilla butter.  Steph got the French toast version of the platter.  When they came out, I was taken aback at how much food there was on our plates.

Steph's French toast plate

Steph’s French toast plate

After living in a country where they eat kimchi and rice or maybe nothing for breakfast, this was a shock to the system.  I quickly dove gob first into my meal starting with the eggs.IMG_1173  I thought I would need some salt to make them more palatable, but I was pleased with their buttery goodness.  Plus, they didn’t have that gross gelatinous texture that scrambled eggs can take on when made in restaurants like McDonalds.  Next, there were the hashbrowns.  Normally, I’m all about the crispy, triangular hashbrowns and don’t care much for the shaved-taters version.

A thing of beauty

A thing of beauty

However, I liked these better than how they’re normally prepared because they were squished into a thick potato-pancake of sorts that made them a lot easier to eat especially with a dollop of ketchup.  The white sausage was just ok.  It kind of had a hot dog flavor profile which didn’t really jive with the rest of the classic breakfast items.  It was like that guy who brings Zima to a house party.  True, it’s alcohol, but it should be at another party or perhaps another decade.  However, the breakfast sausage links and ham were delicious and were only further enhanced through the addition of maple syrup.  Nothing like a little liquid Canadian gold to make any breakfast better.  Finally, there were the pancakes.  I do have to say that Butterfinger Pancakes definitely lives up to their name with their mean flapjacks.  They were perfectly cooked to a golden brown hue and had fluffy white insides.  Taste-wise, they probably were some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had.  I think what separated them from other pancakes that I’ve downed before was that they possessed a unique buttery/vanilla aftertaste that took my palate off to Paul Bunyan’s lumberjack heaven.  Even though they were on the smaller side, they had enormous flavors.  When I finished, I was satisfied, but in retrospect, it wasn’t the best breakfast overall that I’ve had.  I think it was simply the fact that I haven’t had a normal American breakfast in so long that I really appreciated one when it came along.  The plate I ordered you could find anywhere in America, but this was a case of distance causing the stomach to grow fonder.

I'm so aegyo

I’m so aegyo

So if you are really hankering for some big breakfasts the way only the Stars and Stripes can do it, head on over the Butterfinger Pancakes in Gangnam.

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