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Loco For The Yoko

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

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

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

The bowl...

The bowl…

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

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

Yokohama Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Heavenly Wings

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Hello and welcome to another wonderful edition of Mastication Monologues!  After a very long weekend of wild adventures with Janice, I bring you another series of food reviews in Chicago.  Today’s post involves Crisp, a Korean fried chicken establishment that made me think of my time in the Land of the Morning Calm.

While Janice and I were trying to figure out where to grab lunch, we settled on Crisp since her friend gave it rave reviews.  I met him once, and he seemed like a trustworthy guy aside from his crazy moves he was busting out on the dance floor.  I heard that it was Korean fried chicken, and I realized that this was the second time I’d be getting fried chicken with Janice (the first was a sweet memory)  I crossed my fingers that it would be just as scrumptious.  My hopes were completely fulfilled and then some. IMG_3235 Upon walking in, we had to shimmy our way past the overflowing tables and dining counters that were filled to the gills just to put in our order.IMG_3227  While looking at the menu, I could see some of the Korean influences like the focus on fried chicken, bibimbap (or the more Americanized moniker “Buddha bowls”), and different types of kimchi or pickled vegetables.  However, they also have burritos, sandwiches, and sides.  Now, you might be wondering, ‘Fried chicken is pure Amurika.  What makes Korean fried chicken different from the Dirty South classic?’  Well, the contrast lies in the sauce they slather on the crunchy chicken pieces.  They have four different flavors you can slap on bone in/bone out wings and whole/half chickens.  I always love my chicken wings, so I went with the ten wing option.  The cashier chuckled, gave me a look, and asked me if it was my first time there.  I replied in the affirmative, and he said that I wouldn’t be able to finish ten wings since they’re huge.  So, I took his word for it and dropped down to five wings ($8.95), three Seoul Sassy sauce and two Crisp BBQ sauce.  I naturally had to try their kimchi, so I didn’t get the typical cabbage but rather the 총각 (chonggak, literally “bachelor” since it was considered a kimchi so simple even single men could make for themselves) radish kimchi ($3.95).  While waiting I saw a lot of different Korean drinks like Milkis stacked up above the bibimbap display or the Bacchus-D energy drink box on our table. IMG_3225 It’s a popular on-the-go beverage for the 빨리 빨리 (bbali bbali; fast fast) Korean lifestyle, and it tastes like drinking liquid Sweet Tarts.IMG_3229  They called my name, and I snapped out of my memories to pick up my grub.  I’m so glad the cashier was honest with me about the size of the wings because these were gargantuan compared to their Buffalo Wild Wing or Hooter counterparts.IMG_3231  I think Janice put it best that they chopped them off pterodactyls.  If that’s what they did, the prices certainly didn’t reflect the costly nature of the undertaking.

Slightly intimidated

Slightly intimidated

 It was a lot of food for a reasonable price.  I started with the Seoul Sassy sauce, and it definitely lived up to its name.  It was a sophisticated blend of garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and a bit of molasses for a flavor profile that left my mouth watering.  The chicken itself was great with plenty of white meat, and the skin was incredible.  It wasn’t greasy or soggy and was a perfect representative of the restaurant’s name.  As for the Crisp BBQ sauce, it reflected a meeting of East and West with the smokiness of a North Carolina pig roast, and the spice of Korean gochujang that let you know you were consuming something spicy but not in a mouth-numbing manner.  I couldn’t pick between the two sauces, but there was a game-changer that was on every table:  Allison’s atomic sauce.  Like the A-bomb, it blew me away. IMG_3233 It was a mild, chipotle ranch/mayo mixture that had a cooling effect on the wings yet provided a very subtle peppery zing with each bite.IMG_3234  By my third wing, I was slathering this weapon of mass consumption over every square inch of my chicken.  After finishing my five wings, I had two of Janice’s and still could have eaten more.  Alas, I just focused on my kimchi.IMG_3232  It was cubed and soaking in chili water, and it was just as good as back in Korea.  The radish cubes were crispy, slightly sour, and spicy.  I couldn’t even finish the tub because it was so much for so little money.  By the end, I was ready to literally roll out of there a happy diner.

So if you want to try a Korean twist on an American classic with American sized portions and reasonable prices, check out Crisp in Chicago.  빨리 빨리!!

Crisp on Urbanspoon

My Burger From Tokio

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Whew!  Finally done with all of my Florida food posts.  If you haven’t seen any of them, just scroll further down the page to get caught up in the narrative that is my life as a gourmand.  Today’s entry on Mastication Monologues checks off another foodie milestone for me.  It’s not something as crazy as when I ate a live octopus or scorpions, but it is an iconic fusion meal that has popped up on menus in areas of the USA with significant Asian populations like Chicagoland in this case.  My adventure begins with getting in touch with my good friend Carolyn who suggested Tokio Pub, and after looking over the menu online, I knew it was for me when I saw the dish in question.

So we met up in Schaumburg and were quickly seated at the height of dinner which I appreciated.

Our waitress was a laugh and a half with her saucy personality which contributed to our dining experience.  We ordered drinks first, and I got a pint of Fixed Gear Ale ($6).  It was an slightly murky but amber colored brew that had a definite bite with woody notes and a hoppy finish.  As for the food, the menu goes from various sushi offerings to ramen soups to the mysterious sounding hot rock dishes.  That final option left me somewhat intrigued, but Carolyn explained that you can cook your own food at your table utilizing piping hot pieces of stone.  While this interactive dining experience was tempting, I saw another limited per diem item:  the ramen burger.  I’ve been seeing this novelty dish shoot to the top of every foodie’s list, and I’ve even seen recipes in magazines as to how to properly prepare this fusion item.  So after a bit of anticipation, I finally was face to face with destiny. IMG_3026 IMG_3027 As I picked it up, I felt the golden, slippery layers between my fingers and quickly took my first bite.  It was a texture fiesta as I crunched through the outer noodles to the more giving secondary ramen layer which was quickly overtaken by a juicy beef patty, average greens, and a soy molasses that made it a divine treat to eat the meat.  IMG_3030Within five minutes, I had destroyed this piece of art and quickly turned my sights on the cucumber salad.  It was an understated compliment to the savory burger.  Not only were the cucumbers fresh and crispy, but the brine had a semi-sweet tang that cut through the greasy noodle taste.  Although the burger was slightly hefty, I knew I had to try their fried coconut bao (dumpling in Mandarin) dessert ($5).  The presentation alone made me quite fidgety while taking the picture.IMG_3031  It was like my own super-fattening version of Treasure Island.  The golden-brown dumpling treasure chest opened up to spill out coconut cream onto the caramel sand while the scoop of slowly melting ice cream was like a majestic mountain eroding to once again return to the sea, i.e. my stomach. IMG_3032 It was a fitting end to a rich dinner.

So if you’re looking for Asian fusion food with great service and moderately expensive prices in Schaumburg, check out Tokio Pub.

Tokio Pub on Urbanspoon

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