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Toronto (Day 3): 10,000 Leagues Over the Jenga Sea

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Welcome to another Mastication Monologues and part three in my Canadian food adventures.  Day one consisted of a mouthful of Dirty South cookin’ while day two was a yin and yang of cool waters and fiery dinners.  Day three was interesting in its own respect.  We started off the day nice and early at the Ripley’s aquarium which was pretty entertaining with lots of interesting exhibits and marine specimens.  While the Shedd in Chicago has a lot more of the big animals like belugas and dolphins, the Toronto had bested our hometown museum with a larger variety of strange creatures.  For example, the giant sawfish that was chilling on the aqua tube we walked through as tons of other fish, sharks, and even turtles swam around us. Oh, boy, I would not want to see that stuff from my kayak seat.11692502_10105957338687379_774183563389597382_n 11695737_10105957338243269_4334976029450824065_n  The jellyfish exhibit was probably my favorite part since the cool blacklit chambers really made the little guys look like aliens. IMG_7035 Janice, however, was going bananas over the puffer fish and even crawled into the middle that was intended for the children school groups.  I captured her passion with this pretty cool picture.

In heaven

In heaven

Then there were the petting areas where we had some hands-on action with the sea-beasties.  Janice was freaking out with the horseshoe crabs,IMG_7013 and I finally overcame my fear of petting stingrays…by petting one as big as me.

They can smell my fear

They can smell my fear

Unfortunately, none of the small, petable sharks  were feeling calm enough to be friendly with the guests.  Overall, we highly recommend a visit while you’re here, but try to go in the morning since there will be less hordes of shrieking children.  We proceeded to walk to the nearby turntable that turned out to also be the Steamwhistle brewery.IMG_7044  If you’re into beer and/or classic trains, this is your paradise.

Just try not to get run over

Just try not to get run over

We finally got in after a bit of waiting, and they didn’t even have any food for lunch. IMG_7046 IMG_7045 On the plus side, we got to see the inside of the brewery, get some taster beers, 11707573_10105957366192259_8561669485023787245_n 11750695_10105957366152339_6453658988414354508_nand find our next party bike.11223302_10105957366232179_7567314927165861357_n  The brew that we had there tasted like a slightly hoppy IPA that was light and good for a hot day.  So, instead of just sitting there and waiting for the food truck to come in, we moved onto the harborfront since we had a kayak lesson in the afternoon.  After a moderate constitutional, we found ourselves looking out over Lake Ontario, a perfect backdrop for lunch.  We stumbled upon, surprise surprise, another brewery.  This one was called Amsterdam Brewery, and thankfully it wasn’t jazzed up like some sort of cheesy homage to the Dutch capital.  IMG_7059We got a seat on the patio where there was thankfully some shade, IMG_7050 IMG_7049but it seemed like they were training a lot of new staff.  Thankfully, our waitress was very on the ball since we had a deadline to stuff our faces and make it to the lesson on time.  First world problems.  The meal started with da beers.IMG_7048  Even though the flights looked tempting, they had to wait.  Instead, I got their all natural blonde while Janice got their Big Wheel amber ale.  These big glasses quickly came out, and we had different experiences.  IMG_7051My blonde seemed quite bland and slightly sour, but Janice’s Big Wheel was a tasty balance of caramel undertones and a hoppy aftertaste.  Moving on to food, their menu was a standard  bar and grill mix of mostly sandwiches, pizza, and a few slightly ethnic items thrown in there for good measure.  I enjoyed their code for pairing the food with the beer through a letter system next to each food option like C for a crisp beer next to the fish and chips.  We picked a few things to share before going to burn them off on the water.  First, there were the sweet chili rib ends ($11).  IMG_7052IMG_7053These pork chunks were delectable minus the occasional bone chip we had to make sure not to swallow.  Definitely not a plate for the little ones.  However, the flavor was definitely grown and developed through a mix of sweet chili sauce and a braise of lemongrass, lime leaves, and ginger.  It kind of was like an Asian sweet, spicy, yet tangy twist on an American favorite.  I recommend them.  Then we had to get the Canadian classic dish:  poutine ($8).  This melange of gravy, cheese curds, and French fries was born in rural Quebec in the 1950s, but the origin of the name is highly disputed. IMG_7054 Some believe that it is a Frenchified version of the English word “pudding” while others conjecture it comes from the Quebecois French slang for “mess” or “leftovers”.  There are even links back to France with regional dialects boasting cognates like the southern Provencal word, “poutité” or “hodgepodge” in English.  Whatever you want to call it, it is a super rich comfort food that will make you want to check your cholesterol levels when you’re done.  I’m not a huge fan of the soggy fries that soak up a lot of the gravy on the bottom, but the perfect forkful that combines the beefy with the salty fry and tangy cheese is without parallel.  Speaking of the cheese, at Amsterdam they use Thornloe cheese that has been a Canadian institution since 1940.  Plus, it was founded by a guy named Rene Laframboise or Rene The Raspberry.  Now that’s a cheese company I want to patronize!  To balance this heavy plate, we rounded out the main course with some of the hoisin chicken lettuce wraps ($12).  These were the opposite of the poutine:  light, sweet, and fresh.IMG_7055  They were basically like make your own tacos, but instead of tortillas we had super verdant leaves of lettuce.  The chicken and veggies were stir fried in a light teriyaki sauce, and we received the dark hoisin sauce and a pepper seed laden sauce on the side.  All of these plates together were a great value for good food, and we still had a little bit of room to split a dessert.  We got the flourless chocolate torte ($7) which was totally our jam, literally, given that the raspberry coulis (coo-LEE; from the Latin colare “to strain”) was the perfect compliment to the sinfully sweet slice.IMG_7056  An added bonus was the whipped cream, fresh strawberry, and a mysterious gooseberry that made its way onto our plate. IMG_7057 I had never even seen one of these fruits in real life, so I didn’t know what to expect from it.  Our waitress warned us that some diners didn’t care for its “interesting” and super sour taste.  So, I braced myself for the worst when I popped the small, bright yellow berry in my mouth and bit down.  I was greeted with a more neutral, partially earthy flavor washing over my palate.  It barely left an impression on me before it was gone.  Guess the kayak gods were smiling on us as we got the check and were running to the kayak dock.  It was a glorious day for a paddle, and before we knew it, we were in our dual kayak.  Our task of getting to the channel islands was harder than expected since we had to try to not get run over by the numerous boats and water taxis that were creating giant waves as well.  As if that wasn’t enough, there were airplanes zooming overhead because the landing strip was out by the islands.  Definitely got the blood pumping.  Eventually, we got to the islands and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon on the calm waters.  It’s also a great experience if you want some fantastic photo ops for the Toronto skyline like we got. 11540821_10105957366820999_7769503925293810602_n Going back to port was maybe that just much harder given the constant paddling we had done for the previous three hours.  By the time we reached the dock, we were ready for a nap before going out with Aaron and Alyssa.  Once we regroups, we were back at the harborfront with the gang, and funny enough they were going to bring us to Amsterdam Brewhouse!  Instead we wandered about taking in the Friday night surroundings,11745761_10105957366975689_7832020117414013761_n including Janice climbing into this contraption that looked like Dr. Seuss’ pimp-mobile.11694806_10105957367190259_489136461148223093_n  Just par for the course.  Eventually, we decided to go out to a bar or two for food and drinks.  We hit up the Wellington first for food and then the Banknote.  Unfortunately, I don’t have pics for the Wellington, but it had some great nachos.  It’s a cozy bar/restaurant too.  The Banknote, on the other hand, was a great bar for late night shenanigoats.  It was there that I tried another one of the Canadian beers that was also offered at the Amsterdam brewhouse:  the Boneshaker IPA.  Boneshaker TBS Bottle Shot1It was surprisingly palatable given that I’m not the biggest fan of the typically hop-heavy IPA style of beers.  Luckily, my bones weren’t shaking too much given that we played over three hours of Jenga that they have at their main long table.11249766_10105957367329979_2502322992411108169_n 11709773_10105957367389859_5852861961107866960_n  Then again, when you’re having a good time with great company, it’s bound to happen.11695752_10105957367903829_7768437875094248237_n  Talk about a wild Friday and penultimate night in TO!11695777_10105957367604429_5737441334686934831_n
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Craft Beer in Korea? Once In A Brew Moon

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Annyeong hasayeo to everyone out there and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today’s post is a bit different because it deals with a subject that Korean culture enjoys greatly.  No, I’m not talking about K-pop super groups or overly cutesy-wootsy cartoon animals that could cause diabetes with their saccharine antics (although these two elements really do permeate every part of life in Korea).  I’m actually talking about drinking alcohol in social settings.  However, instead of calling attention to Korean classics like soju and makkeoli, I’m going to shed some light on the craft brewing scene in Seoul.  No longer do you have to suffer with the anemic attempts at legitimate beer in the form of a cold Hite or Cass!  First, we shall take a jaunt down to Craftworks in Itaewon.

Craftworks is located at 651 Itaewon 2-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul (http://craftworkstaphouse.com/), but it’s a little hard to find since it’s wedged behind another restaurant in an alley.  Even though it may sound a bit seedy, in reality it’s a hidden gem of a gastropub.  When I first walked in, there was a 40 minute wait, and I could see why.  First, there is their beer menu that is filled with homemade craft brews that are named after Korean landmarks and range anywhere from IPAs to Weisbeers to Dark Ales.  Then there are their menu offerings which include barbecue, wings, build your own salad, sandwiches, and some desserts that made me think of home when I was waiting for a table.  There in front of me in the entryway was a glass case which contained a lattice topped peach pie that was as big as a hubcap and right beside it, a decadent red velvet cake.  I must have died and went to the American enclave of heaven.  It was a definite contrast to the Korean dried seafood and rice cake bonanza that was being displayed in the metro station during my commute to Craftworks.  Eventually, my friend Nate showed up, and we got a table.  The interior was very classy with a dark-wood bar and large glass windows that opened up to a mini patio. craftworks-taphouse-and Definitely the perfect ambiance for enjoying a hand-crafted beer on a cool night.  I started off with the Jirisan Moon Bear I.P.A (7,500 W).

Couldn't wait to get my paws on this bear

Couldn’t wait to get my paws on this bear

The name is interesting since Jirisan is a region in southern South Korea and has one of the three most important mountains in the country.  As for the Moon Bear, it’s a reference to the the Asiatic black bear whose bile is (controversially) consumed for traditional medicine to cure a variety of ailments.  Animal cruelty aside, the beer itself was quite surprising since I’m not the biggest IPA fan, and don’t worry, there wasn’t any bear bile in it.  It had clear citrus notes throughout the body, and the aftertaste did not possess an overwhelming hoppiness.  I then moved on to my soft spot:  dark beers.  I went for the Geumgang Mountain Dark Ale (6,000 W) which checked every box which I look for in a quality beer.IMG_0252  It was darker than a black hole, and the flavor was relatively free of hops.  Plus, there was a slight smokiness to the aftertaste along with chocolate undertones.  Once we had our fill in the wonderful ambiance of Craftworks, we made our way over to Oktoberfest in Hongdae.

Oktoberfest is an all German affair located at 162-6 Donggyo-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 동교동162-6); +82 (2) 323 8081.

Main beer hall

Main beer hall

 Their beer selection isn’t as wide or as creatively named as the libations at Craftworks, but they serve some German classics like Pilsner , Weissbier, and even a half beer, half Sprite Radler in sizes from small (300 ml) to large (1,000 ml).  However, I went with a small glass of Dunklesbier or dark beer (5,000 W).IMG_0257  It was not as fierce as the Geumgang Dark Ale, but it was very smooth with a malty aftertaste.  It also lacked the distinctive smokiness of the Dark Ale.  Next time I think I will try the Radler since it is rarely seen outside of Germany, and I do love my Sprite.

So there you have it, folks.  There are many other craft beer breweries in Seoul that I still have to visit, but I hope this entry has shed a little light on the beer scene in Korea and provided a glimmer of hope for those who want to move beyond weak, fizzy beer.

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