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This Foodie Just Keeps Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along

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Welcome to a retro Masticastion Monologues?  What’s that you say, milkshakes?  Retro?  Well, today’s post focuses on the Red Robin Gourmet Burger chain that is throughout America and known by its signature jingle.  It is one of many burger joints that try to evoke the spirit of 1950s diners that rocked around the clock to strains of Elvis on the jukebox.  While the times have changed since then, and the music has become more interesting (not always better), a good burger with a side of fries will never go out of style.

I went with Janice to the location closest by me at the Oakbrook Center shopping mall.  It was a new addition to the upper level by the Nordstrom’s, but it is quite popular with families and the teenage pods that roam from shop to shop.  However, it is also a fun place to go if you want to grab a cold one with your friends. 46716679_IDs7asvk6P2fAMb1kCe5RF3goIR9CPkJrdDMEyGl8Cc We were there to get a bite to eat before seeing a movie nearby, and it was a pleasant experience.  I looked over the menu and after seeing all of the burgers, chicken sandwiches, and side salads the place had to offer, I went for the Burning Love burger ($10.49).  Janice got the Royal Red Robin burger ($10.79).  However, I didn’t want to just get a burger.  I saw that you could “style” your burger in three ways:  Pig Out with extra bacon (+$1.50), Cantina Jack with mild green chiles (+$1.00), or Fiery Ghost with a ghost pepper sauce, fresh jalapeno pepper slices, and fried ones (+$1.00).  Needless to say, if you’ve read my blog, I love everything spicy.  Whether it’s a deadly pork cutlet in Korea or gastro-intestinal shredding poppers in Portland, Oregon, I can’t say no to the tongue burning experience.  Eventually they came out, and Janice’s burger looked delicious. IMG_4562 It was like a combo of breakfast and dinner where the bacon and eggs got down with the beef patty to make an extremely rich but runny burger.  It was a flavorful meal that whetted my appetite to finally tuck into my devilish basket.IMG_4561  I had tried ghost peppers before, and it was a tough but manageable experience.  However, I was pretty disappointed with my burger, spice-wise.  I was expecting to have my taste buds blown off my tongue, but the red ghost pepper sauce didn’t even make it beyond a weak habanero.  I enjoyed the fresh and fried jalapeno pieces more since they provided a crunch and buttery finish to the salsa, chipotle aioli, and jalapeno cornmeal kaiser bun. IMG_4563 Still, it was a finger licking good burger, but if you’re a real spicehead, you won’t blink with the spice levels.  Janice tried some of the sauce on the tip of her finger, and she couldn’t handle it.  So, I think my tastebuds might be dead or perhaps zombies since I can still taste other flavors.  As for the fries, they were of the steak cut variety, probably tied for favorite along with waffle.  They were on average larger and softer than the smaller crispier ones you might find at McDonalds or Burger King, but they had the perfect ratio of fry to salt flavor.  Plus, at Red Robin they’re bottomless!  So if you feel like carbo-loading, hit up Olive Garden and Red Robin.  You’ll definitely get your money’s worth.  By the end of the meal, I couldn’t even finish all of my fries because it was all so filling and scrumptious.

So if you want to visit a new burger chain that isn’t afraid to be creative with their burgers and get a lot of food for a reasonable price, check out Red Robin! Yuuummmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers on Urbanspoon

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Un-Ba-Le-Vable Flavors

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Welcome one and all to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Things on my blog have been picking up as of late since I’ve survived my first semester teaching in upper academia, so these posts are keeping me sane in the flurry of bureaucracy and final exam writing.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I like writing them!  Today’s post once again brings me to Chicago’s Uptown Little Vietnam neighborhood.  It’s a diverse enclave of Chicago’s ethnic rainbow which boasts a plethora of eateries serving a wide variety of foods from Far East and Southeast Asia.  However, the Vietnamese community is the largest; ergo, I’ve sampled just the tip of the pho iceberg when it comes to fully exploring their culinary representatives.  Ba Le Sandwich shop is one of the best and most popular eateries in the area, and my first visit there was fantastic.

Ba Le’s storefront is at the heart of Little Vietnam at the intersection of Argyle and Broadway and opposite the iconic Tank Noodle where you can get some hot pho soup to chase this newly arrived cold weather away.IMG_4846  Walking into the establishment, past the small Buddhist shrine at the entrance, I was greeted with a sleek and modern interior that boasted a full wall of treats like freshly cut coconuts, Vietnamese head cheese or giò thủ , and a large vareity of chè or sweet pudding/jello treats.  IMG_4217IMG_4212 IMG_4214 IMG_4213On the right hand side of the shop, there were sushi roll packs next to a mini French bakery that was bursting at the seams with macaron mini-mountains.  IMG_4216Delectable remnants of the French colonization of Indochina as they were, I was interested in something more substantial and what Ba Le is known for:  banh mi.  If you want a historical explanation of the sandwich, hit up my Portland food truck adventure here.  Looking over the menu, they also offered side dishes like the famous gỏi cuốn translucent shrimp rolls, noodle salads, fried rice, and egg rolls.  As for the banh mi sandwiches, I went for the Chinese Pork or xá xíu ($4.95), and they do cater to vegetarians with banh mi, btw!   The sandwich was quite big for the price as I took it to one of Ba Le’s window counters you can eat at while watching the locals go about their daily business.  I wasn’t doing much people watching because I was severely distracted and gobsmacked at how delicious this sandwich was.IMG_4218  It was the culinary equivalent of Saul, future St. Paul, being knocked off his horse and converting to Christianity after hearing the voice of God. Oh_Lawd___by_deadprez132001 I don’t know what it was that made this sandwich stand out from the thousands of other sandwiches I tried.  Perhaps it was the extremely fresh French baguette that was just the right ratio of crispness to softness.  IMG_4220Maybe my weakness for mayonnaise combined with the fresh-from-the-garden cilantro, jalapeno peppers, daikon radish, onions, and carrots.  I think the pork helped as well since it was served in the char siu (叉燒) style which originates in China.  It is basically barbecued pork that is roasted while being coated with honey, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and five spice powder.  What you get is a tender cut of pork that is both sweet and slightly salty, a perfect fauna compliment to the unspoiled flora of my unwrapped Garden of Eden.  Long story short, it was ecstasy in my mouth, and it wasn’t very heavy compared to many Western sub sandwiches.

So if you want a heavenly bite of Vietnamese culture for hellishly low prices, check out Ba Le Sandwich Shop in Chicago!
Ba Le Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Buffalo Joe’s Fo’ Sho

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Nothing says, “Fall is here!” better than pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks, football, and chicken wings, right?  Well, actually that last one is always good year round, but it could make the terrible Bears season we’re experiencing a bit less sucktacular.  Am I right?  So today I’d like to recommend a little slice of comfort food heaven in Evanston called Buffalo Joe’s.

We went to this small eatery on a balmy summer night, and it was simply furnished inside and outside.  IMG_4227This no-frills diner translated to a walk up and order type of restaurant.  IMG_4226Their menu consists of plenty of bar food even though it’s not a bar per se, so expect plenty of burgers, hot dogs, Italian beef sammiches, salads, gourmet baked potatoes, chili, and of course, the wings.  I love my chicken in general and the spicier the better.  So, we got a double order of wings ($14.59), half tossed in mild sauce and the other half in the suicide sauce.  We also got an order of the Buffalo Chips ($2.89).IMG_4223  After a bit of waiting, they shouted our order was ready, so we grabbed the grub and found an open booth.  It was like a fast food restaurant that somehow wasn’t one since they had the signature mid-90’s Burger King seats made with thick slats of wood, but there wasn’t a paper crown in sight.  Buffalo Joe’s made up for the decor with the Simpsons on the tv along with some delectable looking food.  I started on my wings which I got at least 10 to my order. IMG_4224 While they were neither as enormous as the wings at Hooters nor as hellish as the ones at Jake Melnick’s, they were good pieces of chicken.  There was ample meat on bony wings that could have had next to nothing, but I thought they had a fair amount of meat for the price.  As for the “suicide” sauce, I think it might have been hazardous to most diners’ health, but my taste buds and stomach are far from new to consuming fiery meals.  Ergo, I found their suicide sauce to be almost like a typical buffalo sauce with a vinegar kick and a bit more spice than normal that was amped up with the sauce-slathered jalapeno pepper slices.  I think the mild wings were a bit better since the vinegar tinged flames gave way to a more buttery/savory/smoky flavor that was enhanced with the ranch dressing on the side.  Then there were the buffalo chips.  Even though their name means something a bit more repugnant than some fried potatoes (buffalo poo), the flavor and appearance were much more appeasing to the senses.  I can never say no to waffle fries, and the super fake nacho cheese were the icing on the cake (or perhaps the dairy on the tater). There were only two downsides to this side.  First, there was the soggy factor that happens in any sort of nacho cheese situation.  While the top chips were crisp and coated, but bottom ones were drowned beneath the yellow waves.  That was the other bad part of the side was the cheese itself.  I think that they overdid it a bit because I felt like I was swimming in a squeeze cheese pool by the end of of the meal.

So if you’re tired of scantily clad waitresses or ten billion tvs blaring sports stats at you STAT!, check out the laid back atmosphere of Buffalo Joe’s!
Buffalo Joe's on Urbanspoon

Baycation Gone Wrong

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What’s up, y’all?!  I just finished my lengthy recounting of my Korean Thanksgiving abroad in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, so now I’m bringing it back to the Korean peninsula in Hongdae a.k.a. one of my favorite stomping grounds in Seoul.  It’s the local university neighborhood, so naturally it’s filled with young people my age compared to the ajummas scowling outside my apartment and the ajeossis getting drunk and visiting the love motels in my backyard.  This age difference leads me to frequent this happening student quarter, and along the way I manage to try all of the funky restaurants that cater to the young, restless, and hungry.  Today I’ll be talking about Burger Bay.  It’s located at Mapo-gu Seogyo-dong 362-7 Seoul South Korea.

It was actually quite an impromptu visit since I had originally just planned on meeting up with my friend Heidi to pick up my shipment of Sriracha hot sauce from the States.  Don’t judge me.  Korea lacks legitimately spicy sauces for everyday use.  After meeting up, we decided to grab dinner and catch up on our vacations abroad.  We ended up at Burger B because I had seen it many times during nights out and wanted to see the overall quality of the burgers they made.  So we walked into a very nicely decorated and arranged restaurant with no foreigners inside which was interesting for Hongdae since there are normally a lot of foreigners in the burger joints. IMG_0976 We sat down to look at the menu, and the waitress recommended the regular size for two people (read:  Korean people or anyone else who isn’t used to American sized portions).  Heidi just went with a regular cheeseburger while I went for the regular sized Bay Burger.  After a good amount of time talking about Korea and how it compared to the States/my Chinese adventures, our burgers emerged from the kitchen.  They were a sight behold.  I never saw a burger that larger ever in Korea.  It was like I was back home, but the size was more intimidating because the bun was quite thick which was a bad meat to bread ratio.  On the side we got a small portion of golden steak fries that were delicious  and lightly drizzled with a garlic aioli.  The jalapenos that came with it were also a big surprise since you rarely see them in Korea, but they were largely tasteless since they took away most of the spicy seeds.  The burgers, however, were the main talking point of this meal, naturally. IMG_0973 On mine, there was marinara sauce, hashbrowns, tomatoes, lettuce, and a thick juicy beef patty.  I didn’t really understand why there were hashbrowns and marinara sauce on the burger, and it didn’t make the burger that delicious.  It did make me think of the Korean propensity to always combine tomato based products with some form of potato like throwing potatoes on every form of pizza known to mankind.  I was somewhat pleased with my burger but not blown away.  Then there was Heidi’s burger.

Heidi's face sums up our feelings about this "cheeseburger".

Heidi’s face sums up our feelings about this “cheeseburger”.

Normally, a cheeseburger is just what it says it is.  Cheese+burger, but this was no ordinary burger.  When she lifted the bun, she found chopped almonds coating the cheese like a brown and white blanket of snow.

Nuts to that.

Nuts to that.

Why, Korea?  I tried a bite, and it was somewhat disgusting because the nuts were semi-sweet for some reason.  I don’t know how she ate 3/4ths of her burger but more power to her.

I’d say check out Burger Bay if you’re looking for a chill place that has an interesting mix of ingredients on burgers, but I’d recommend looking elsewhere for the best burger in Seoul.

Spice That’s Twice As Nice

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Hello everyone to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be highlighting an expat haven in Itaewon where one can  find Western quality breakfasts, burgers, and wings when they grow weary of the kimchi and non-existent Korean breakfast food.  I’m talking about Richard Copycat’s All American diner located at 56-13 Itaewon-dong Yongsan-gu Seoul South Korea.

Now, I do enjoy Korean food and trying new things, but it never hurts to go back to food that is familiar to you.  That what I was looking for when I walked into the diner, and I found it and then some.  They have a pretty extensive menu that is filled with familiar breakfast staples like French toast, omelets, and skillets.  Even though they boasted about the quality of their breakfast options in the menu, I was feeling like trying a burger since it was closer to lunch time.  I ended up choosing was the wasabi burger.  It had cheddar and pepper jack cheese, jalapenos, and a wasabi infused mayo.  Yeah, you read that right, Japanese horseradish and mayo together in one potentially overwhelming combination.IMG_1305

When it came out, I was bracing myself for Western portions, but it was Korean sized which kind of wasn’t worth the 14,000 won.  Plus, as most people have already commented before on the internet, the service at this restaurant is very slow.  If you ask them for a refill or for free pickles, they either take twice as long as they should or forget in regard to drink refills.  Qualms aside, it was a pretty funky burger in a good way.  The bun was buttery and held the sandwich together quite well even with the copious amounts of wasabi mayo applied to the bottom bun.  The beef patty was thick and succulent, but the cheddar cheese was pedestrian even though it was so unnaturally orange that it almost looked like I was eating a sunny-side up egg.  However, I greatly enjoyed the spicy elements of this burger.  The jalapenos were pickled like back home, and the wasabi mayo became more and more intense as I proceeded to munch on the burger.  It wasn’t too overpowering like eating a whole mini portion of the Japanese horseradish, but I did have that burning sensation behind my nose that could send any possible congestion packing.  The fries that came with it were average, but I preferred them since they were somewhat underdone and not very salted.  So overall, I would recommend this burger if you’re into trying spicy things and like wasabi.  They do manage to take very potent flavors and pack it into an easy to swallow package.  So if you’re in Itaewon and want a little taste of home while still maintaining a foot in the Far East, try the wasabi burger at the All American Diner.

Grilled Cheese That’s Sure to Please

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Hello everyone, and welcome to another addition to Mastication Monologues!  The time has been flying by as of late which I blame on the advancement of Christmas advertisements and the Daylight Savings Time.  However, last night I managed to slow down and enjoy a great meal at a new establishment that serves a childhood favorite with a twist.  I am talking about The Big Cheese which is located at 4229 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60618.

I had actually saw in the Redeye (a local free newspaper in Chicago) that a new restaurant that specialized in grilled cheese sandwiches had opened up.  The Redeye’s restaurant reviewer had mostly good things to say about it aside from one of his/her sandwiches not being completely melted.  The same was said about the lack of melted cheese on Yelp. Nevertheless, I had to go and see what all of the fuss was about since it combines two of my favorite food groups, bread and cheese.  When my friend and I got there around 6:50 p.m., the interior was dark and the staff was just sitting there.  It turns out that their hours of operation on the internet and their sign were incorrect.  They had just closed.  However, they still let us in even though we felt bad for imposing.  To make up for our troubles, the very hospitable owner, Mike, hooked us up with a free plate of fried pickles.  They were pretty good for a little something to nibble on before the main event.  The actual breading was a bit flaky, but its buttery taste complimented the sour crunch of the pickle quite nicely.  Plus, it was served with a small cup of Ranch dressing to provide a cool tang for the palate.

Don’t judge a pickle by its breading

For my actual sandwich, I chose the Diablo Rojo (Red Devil for those who don’t habla espanol).  This was a muy picante twist on the grilled cheese.  The actual sandwich contained Toluca style chorizo, grilled jalapenos, and Chihuahua cheese, and it was all served on a Ciabatta bun.  When I bit into it, it was like a fiesta in my mouth y toda la familia was invited.  The chorizo was plentiful and was bursting with cumin and chili notes which provided an exquisite compliment to the smoky jalapeno flavor.  Unfortunately, the cheese was overshadowed by the two aforementioned elements, but it provided a glue to hold all of the contents together within the sandwich.  As for the Ciabatta roll, that was an improvisation by the cooks since they were out of regular bread, but I would recommend that they serve it on this type of bun.  It was fresh and crusty but sturdy enough to handle all of those contents without crumbling under the pressure.  With every sandwich, you can also order either soup or fries.  I ordered the fries, but they also gave me a bowl of their tomato basil soup.

A sandwich sandwiched between two killer sides

The fries were golden straws of deliciousness that were lightly powdered with Parmesan cheese, a welcomed variation that really popped with cheesy goodness when eaten with ketchup.  As for the soup, I’m not a huge crouton fan, but the actual soup was delectable.  It was a creamy sunset orange that tasted like a rich marinara sauce which also doubly served as a dipping sauce for my sandwich (a move I highly recommend).

Overall, the ambiance of the place was quite laid back, and the service provided by the server, staff, and owner was very warm like one of their signature creations.  So head on out to the Big Cheese for a little slice of paradise!

The Big Cheese On Lincoln on Urbanspoon

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