RSS Feed

Tag Archives: juice

Laissez Les Bons Boefs Roulez!

Posted on

Beef.  The quintessential meat.  Hearty and filling, it can be found throughout many different cuisines served in very different forms.  If you visit Chicago, you can sample some of the best steaks in the country.  We used to be the butcher for the world with the Union Stockyards, but they have gone the way of smoking on airplanes and pay phones.

So.  much.  beef.

So. much. beef.

 

The Union stockyard gate then...

The Union stockyard gate then…

and now

and now

Still, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a great porterhouse or t-bone.  If you’re not in the mood to drop some major paper on some of that red stuff, there are cheaper alternatives.  Enter another Chicago institution:  the Italian beef sandwich.  While other US cities have sandwiches that could be considered distant cousins to this hearty and humble meal like Philly’s cheesesteak or Pittsburgh’s Tommy DiNic’s Italian pork sandwich, the Chicago version is the best, I think.  In fact, it is so popular here that there are many restaurants that claim to have the best Italian beef sandwich in the city.  Today’s restaurant review revolves around one of the biggest names in the beef biz:  Mr. Beef.

Two of the biggest names in the city are Al’s Beef located in the Little Italy neighborhood and Mr. Beef on Orleans in the River North neighborhood.  Their rivalry is so notorious that it was featured on Travel Channel’s Food Wars.  I won’t spoil it for you, but I disagree who the real winner is.  Anyway, for those of you who haven’t been to Chicago, an Italian beef sandwich is one of those “must”s for Chicago tourists to try.  It’s in the holy trinity of a Chicago hot dog, deep dish pizza, and the holy beef sandwich.  It arose from the Italian immigrant community’s need to make the meat last longer, so they sliced it thin, stewed it with spices, and slapped the tender meat on a fresh roll.  Thus, the Italian beef sandwich was born.  While I was working at a Mexican university that was located right next to the restaurant, I knew I had to pop over to try it since I’ve walked past it a million times but never tried their sandwiches. IMG_4930IMG_4931 So, I finally fulfilled my vow, and walked in to see a shop that is similar to other Italian delis with lots of pictures on the wall and a deli counter at one end with no fancy decorations. IMG_4932 Scanning the menu, I saw the beef sandwich I wanted, but it was 7 bucks.  I couldn’t believe how expensive it was compared to their competitors, so I was expecting this sandwich to justify the price tag.  I got it spicy which means that I got giardiniera on top.  I think giardiniera is also a Chicago thing since it comes from the Italian community also and consists of a mix of pickled vegetables and chili peppers in olive oil.  However, you can get it mild with cooked bell peppers or with no peppers at all.  Then there’s the juice factor.  You can get it dry or juicy, i.e. dipped in the same herb tinged broth the beef soaks in.  I always get mine juicy since it adds more flavor to savor, but you can get it dry to enjoy the freshness of the bread and the delicious beef.  After the brusque cashier took down my order, they set to making my sandwich.  As I was looking at the menu I saw they had other typical fast food staples like burgers, hot dogs, and sides like fries and onion rings.  Eventually, I finally got my sandwich and was ready to see what all the hubbub was about.  I got a seat in the back room at one of the super long tables you share with your fellow diners.  Once I opened up my wrapped up treasure, it looked mouth-watering. IMG_4995 From the bright verdant giardiniera to the fresh bread, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into dat beef.  The first bite was quite satisfying with a good ratio of bread to meat, but it lacked that spicy flair that comes with other dipped Italian beef sammiches.  The beef was tender and flavorful, but the giardiniera left something to be desired.  While other Italian eateries have a generous blend of veggies, I wasn’t a fan of the mainly celery based mix atop my meal.  It wasn’t as fiery as other spicy sandwiches which made it lose points, but it was innovative in the sense that the giardiniera was extremely crunchy to provide a bit of different texture to the mainly chewy sandwich.

So in the end, would I say Mr. Beef is the be-all, end all of Italian beef in Chi-town?  I’d say no.  It lacks the ingredient complexity of their competitors, and the relatively expensive price tag took it down a couple notches in my book.  However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try this fixture on the Chicago food scene.  It’s just a different take on a hometown classic, so maybe it will be better for you than for me.  Happy hunting!
Mr. Beef on Urbanspoon

Advertisements

Costa Rica (Day 6/Final)- Chasing Waterfalls

Posted on

Well, it has finally come to this.  The end of our Costa Rican adventure.  It was a wonderful time, and in this post I plan on covering the final two days of our Central American trek.

Our penultimate day kicked off with another super delicious, home-made breakfast that consisted of a quarter of a watermelon, bakery from the night before, and some interesting fruit juice.IMG_5572  First, there was the juice.  When walking through the supermarket the night before, I found this juice of the cas fruit.  Before running into it, the first thing I would have thought of when I heard the word “cas” would be of a terrible Korean beer, but this discovery was worlds apart.IMG_5351  Turns out the cas fruit is a variety of guava grown in Costa Rica, and the juice was a bit more sour than sweet.  It had elements of pear, apple, lime, and orange to be a refreshing glass of juice.  Then there were the pastries. *Cue drooling*.  First, there was my dulce de leche roll that basically was a cinnamon roll with the frosting replaced with that sweet sweet caramel.IMG_5353  It was soft, filled with cinnamon, and super decadent. IMG_5355 My only regret was not microwaving it when I had the chance to get that “fresh-out-of-the-oven” taste and feel. IMG_5356IMG_5359 IMG_5357Janice’s choice, the pupusa de queso, was a surprisingly delicious breakfast addition.  IMG_5352What kind of threw me for a loop was that the Costa Ricans called this a pupusa when I was more acquainted with a more savory and tortilla based variety from El Salvador. IMG_5354 Plus, it was stuffed with a savory cheese that wouldn’t have worked too well without the sugary crust that spanned from stern to bow.IMG_5358  It was a great contrast that left me pleasantly satiated by the end of our breakfast.  These treats were a prelude to our trip to the Poas Volcano.  It was an extremely clear day which was great for us since we were able to see the entire volcano crater complete with the aromatic smell of sulphur dioxide in the air.  How romantic! IMG_4232 After sauntering back down the side of the smouldering mountain, we loaded into the mini-bus to go to the waterfall garden.  However, before we arrived there, we stopped at a roadside store that specialized in strawberries.  In Costa Rica, the land of abundant wildlife and produce, what is grown is dependent on the altitude and climate.  So, in addition to those two factors, the volcanic soil proved to be the ideal environment for growing the sweet fruits. IMG_5379 I tried some from Janice’s purchase and other fellow passengers’ cups, but they didn’t taste any different than the ones from back home.  We arrived at the La Paz animal sanctuary and waterfall garden which was a menagerie of some truly unique flora and fauna specimens like parrots that could sound like crying babies and treasure beetles that looked like they were dipped in precious metals.  Before going to see the waterfalls, we got free samples of a coconut pudding similar to one Janice bought when we were in Sarchi along with a cube of very bland cheese. IMG_4331 The coolest part of the waterfall garden was the magia blanca (“white magic” in Spanish) cataract whose name derives from the optical illusion achieved by staring at the middle of the falls for roughly 20 seconds. IMG_5443 Then, we moved our eyes to the right to see the cliff moving upward against the water.  After we finished with this adventure through the mountains, we went for lunch at another strawberry market and restaurant.  The steak was good but nothing noteworthy.  Janice’s beef stew was a lot tastier since each piece was melting in my mouth. IMG_5457IMG_5460 The strawberry smoothie was a lot better than their intact brethren since it was sweeter due to probable added sugar.IMG_4344  We peaced out of there to get to San Jose, and at night our entire tour group met up for one last meal together.  Our guide, Christian, swore by this place, La Cascada Steakhouse, as one of the best eateries in San Jose.IMG_5478  Fitting that it was also named after a waterfall in Spanish.  It looked moderately more fancy compared to the soda diners we hit up in days past. IMG_5464 IMG_5463 I started the night off with a Pilsen beer that was to a T exactly what the name suggested:  a disappointing pilsner style brew.  IMG_5461On the table, there was a bread and tortilla basket complimented with three different sauces along with butter.  I was a personal fan of the spicy ketchup mix combined with the garlic-laden Chimichurri sauce.IMG_5465  I ordered the Cascada house special, and Janice got the Tierra y Mar (“Surf and turf” basically in Spanish).  While waiting for our food, I decided to get a pic of the grill when one of the servers initiated a conversation with me in Spanish.  I explained to him that I wrote a food blog, so he gave me the lowdown about the grill.  Apparently what sets this steakhouse apart from others was that the grill was that it was coal fueled as opposed to the wood or gas varieties.IMG_5467  This showed in the food when our meals came out.  My steak was expertly grilled and super juicy with a smoky flavor. IMG_5471 Janice’s shrimp and steak combined were super decadent while the side of potato, black beans, and fried plantains were ok. IMG_5473 Surprisingly, we had room for dessert.  I got the apple pie a la mode, and the Tico take on this slice of ‘Murika was pretty damn tasty, especially the carmelized sugar goblet holding the delicious vanilla ice cream.IMG_5474  I loved Janice’s coconut flan that was more bread pudding-esque than the jigglier versions I’ve tried before.IMG_5475  One of our fellow travelers ordered the tres leches (“three milks” in Spanish) cake that was rich yet simple with a creamy topping and vanilla undertones. IMG_5476 It was a bittersweet sign that our time together was coming to a close.

Some of the people in our group.

Some of the people in our group.

The final full day consisted of our ziplining adventure throughout the San Lorenzo canopy which was absolutely exhilarating and ended our trip on literally a high note. IMG_5542 Before becoming airborn, we had some deliciously sweet vanilla pudding puffs for breakfast from the same bakery in downtown San Jose where we got the dulce de leche roll.IMG_5482IMG_5483  After flying through the jungle and over mountains at speeds reaching 50-60 mph (96.5 kph), that worked our appetites up.  So, we hit up the sangria bar at the Best Western down the street.  We kept it simple with a margarita pizza which I guess translates to a regular cheese pizza in Costa Rica.  My dark Bavaria beer was like any of the other beers I had in Costa Rica:  disappointing with minimal taste.IMG_5490IMG_5491  So much for having a full bodied beer on vacation.   The chocolate mousse dessert was a tantalizing dessert that went well with our sweet sangria to top off the night and our journey.IMG_5493IMG_5494

It was hard to say goodbye to the friends that we made along the way, and the wonderful country we explored for that week.  However, reality set in as we passed the marimba players at the airport playing the Chicken Dance, and we walked up to security to return home to freezing Chicago.  It was a perfect vacation, and we stayed classy all the way to the end.   We wouldn’t have done it any other way.IMG_5507

Costa Rica (Day 5)- Sloth Sanctuary = BOO-YA, Grandma!

Posted on

BARKBARKWOWOFOFUFFUFUFWOOFFBARKBARK!!!!!!!  We awoke in Costa Rica on day five of our vacation to the calming sound of a loudly barking pack of dogs at 5 am.  We had made friends with them the night before when we arrived at Kenaki Lounge, so I would have thought that they would have at least kept the woofing to a minimum before 8 am.

So friendly at night.

So friendly at night.

Instead, we found that the entire pooch army had encamped right outside our door with the big Great Dane literally like a giant rock wedged up against our sliding door.  With a bit of finesse and good humor, we got the big guy out of the way, and he greeted me with a smooch.IMG_5231  The sun hadn’t risen yet, but our lodging was quite luscious in the daytime.  IMG_5232We set out to see the beach that was right across the dirt road in front of our hotel, and after a bit of bushwhacking through some mud and palm trees, we finally managed to reach the Caribbean Sea.IMG_5234  The sunrise was absolutely beautiful; I really couldn’t say that about the beach.  Compared to the clear, sapphire waters on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, the turgid waters were silty and poo colored like the sand on our sandals.  It was more jungle-esque with more bugs too, but both were pretty in their own unique ways.  After walking back, we managed to find a normal path that we could have taken initially instead of jumping over soggy, muddy ditches.  We arrived back at our room to be summoned for a fresh breakfast of fruit and gallo pinto, of course, to be eaten on the deck in the open air.

Our view over breakfast

Our view over breakfast

IMG_5250IMG_5244  The starfruit were my favorite additions to the fruit plate since they were juicy yet sour which provided a nice contrast to the juicy watermelon and sweet pineapple.   On the side, we had a hot cup of tea along with a mix of papaya and orange juice. IMG_5245 Normally, I’m not a huge fan of papaya (the orange slice on the fruit plate) since it doesn’t really taste like much aside from the occasional hint of fecal matter.  I know it sounds odd, but that’s just my impression of it.  By the time we were chowing down on the last delicious remnants of our breakfast, our driver Rigoberto had arrived to whisk us to what we had been waiting for the entire trip:  the sloth sanctuary!!  When we arrived, we could hardly contain our excitement as everything sloth was surrounding us (even the road signs). IMG_5255 Our first close encounter with one of the slow creatures was with Buttercup; the local sloth diva that I ate fruit with before Janice broke down like a fan-girl. IMG_5260 We went on a canoe ride throughout the neighboring lagoon complete with pooping and screaming howler monkeys whose hoots echoed through the thick jungle air.  We then experienced such highlights like meeting baby sloths, feeding two toed sloths, and shaking hands with three toed sloths. IMG_5533 IMG_5298 Some fun facts we learned about the sloths include:  they’re related to armadillos and anteaters; they’re cold blooded mammals; and they can move as fast as an average human jogging if necessary.  Sadly, we eventually had to leave the wonderful paradise, but that meant that Rigoberto was going to bring us to a great Costa Rican restaurant that served food that was grilled right in front of your eyes.  Unfortunately, when we got there, the guy waved us away, but it was a blessing in disguise.  We went across the street to another Costa Rican greasy spoon diner called “Soda El Oasis“. IMG_5308 It looked a world away from the first soda we went to given that everything looked spotless from the walls to the silverware even though it was in the middle of a small town called Pocora. IMG_5307 Looking over the menu, which was just a whiteboard on the wall, I went for an order of carne ahumada (smoked meat), a cheese empanada, and a blackberry milkshake. IMG_5306 Janice got arroz con pollo (chicken with rice), and it was absolutely mind-blowing.  I don’t know if it was the spices, or the way they fried the rice, but it made me wish I got a side order of it.  As for my plate, the meat was off the hook or perhaps the grill with the wood-smoked flavor that thoroughly permeated every juicy bite. IMG_5309  The casado combined with the chayote mixed very well with the pork, and the light, mixed salad on the side countered the heartier half of the plate.  As for the empanada, it was a semi-fail since they gave me a chicken one instead of cheese.IMG_5311  It was good but not great by comparison to the rest of the meal.  Once we finally completed the long trek back to San Jose and bid farewell to good, ol’ Rigoberto, we decided to descend into the madness that was downtown San Jose in the middle of rush hour.  Our cab driver was trying his best to make his way through the chaotic and severely congested streets as hordes of people streamed past our windows and a thick blanket of exhaust wafted through my nostrils.  Eventually, we arrived at the main cathedral in the heart of San Jose.  It was rebuilt after an earthquake according to a security guard who proceeded to give me an entire history of the site after I crossed myself upon leaving.  We also saw the National Theater and the Central Market located on Avenida Central. IMG_5320IMG_5324 It was super busy like everywhere else in the area and was pickpocket central, so be wary with your possessions when walking through the masses.  We hit up a local bakery to get some pastries for next day’s breakfast, and I couldn’t wait to try them.  It made me even hungrier by the time we got back to the condo.  Word on the street was that La Casa de Mi Abuela (My Grandmother’s House in Spanish) was the place to eat at in San Jose, and strangely enough it was run by an expat Canadian.  It was in a strip mall nearby our timeshare that seemed quite abandoned, but the exploration was worth it.IMG_5325  We were the only people in the restaurant, so we got extremely personal service.  IMG_5326Turns out the owner was originally from New Brunswick, but it seems that the pura vida lifestyle called him back.  He was super friendly and polite like all Canadians I’ve met which was one of many pluses for this establishment.IMG_5327IMG_5328  I was quickly acquainted with the only downside of the restaurant:  the bathroom.  It was the dirtiest thing in probably the whole of Costa Rica as the owner winced when I asked him where it was.  He handed me a bottle of hand sanitizer, and bade me the best of luck.  Goody.  I undid the lock on the bathroom door (always promising), walked in, and it looked like I was going to get shanked if I didn’t do my business fast enough.  I hustled, and returned to order my meal.  Out of all of the small places throughout Costa Rica we went to, that bathroom was the dirtiest place we saw, and we went to small truck stop bathrooms in the jungle.  Bathroom antics aside, I got an order of the ribs with a glass of guanabana and blackberry juice.  Janice got the homemade pork sausages with mixed veggies and hand-ground mustard sauce.  While waiting for our meat to be grilled on the griddle out front,IMG_5329IMG_5331 we were treated to some complimentary garlic bread, rice, Nicaraguan red beans, and a homemade spicy sauce.  Everything was delicious, including the beans and rice. IMG_5342 Surprisingly, we weren’t sick of them because they were different than the typical black beans of the casado or kidney beans in gallo pinto, but rather they were bigger and slightly harder.  Plus, the spicy sauce was a slighty sweet and smoky bbq flourish that I was digging.  The garlic bread was sliced into irregular squares, but the owner went hard on the garlic cloves and the butter. I was in heaven.IMG_5332  The party really got started when I asked the owner if he had any guaro or sugar cane liquor, the local alcoholic beverage of choice.  He gave me another sideways look and just matter-of-factly asked, “Why?”.  I responded that I just wanted to try it, so he brought out two shot glasses.  He bade us luck, and I took it down while Janice sipped it. IMG_5335IMG_5341 I would liken it to a slightly sweet, slightly watered down vodka that isn’t as disgusting as Korean soju.  The owner was acting like it was Spirytus, but clearly he wasn’t of a stronger constitution like moi.  Janice also got the same drink as me, so she mixed it in with her juice.  Like vodka, it mixed very well.  Alcohol aside, the guanabana and blackberry juice was the ideal combo of sour and sweet to be paired with our savory plates that were eventually placed in front of us. IMG_5330 My ribs looked delectable, and I could smell the rich pork flavor wafting past my nostrils. IMG_5346 I took a bite, and it made me smile like a three toed sloth.  The food coma that would ensue later would make me move just as fast as they do.  I splashed some of the spicy bbq sauce from the beans and rice on top of the pork ribs, and it really gussied them up to go to the food jamboree in my stomach.  I really appreciated the ribs’ grease level since it was just the right amount that enhanced the flavor, but did not result in my hands looking like I washed my hands with baby oil.  Janice’s pork sausages by themselves were ok.IMG_5343  True, they had a softer casing that didn’t have a signature pop like Chicago hot dogs have, but the handground mustard sauce saved this dish. IMG_5344 It was a combo of Dijon and honey that enriched the pork but didn’t overwhelm my tastebuds.  The sauteed veggies on the side were competently made, but nothing really noteworthy.  By that point, we were thoroughly stuffed.  We paid the bill and made our way home looking at the stars in the darkness while holding hands hoping our trip would never end.

Costa Rica (Day 3)- Fruits of Our Travels

Posted on

Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  If you haven’t been following my blog, you are in the middle of my Costa Rican travel series where I recount all of the wild and woolly adventures I find myself in throughout the country (Day 1 and Day 2).  Day 3, today’s post, takes me to a land of oxcarts, hidden volcanos, and hot springs.  Let’s start at the beginning.

The morning started off with a snag as we were locked in our condo complex that was preventing us from getting breakfast before meeting up with our group.  Thankfully, my Spanish came in handy, and we were at Denny’s before you could say “Buenos dias!”.  There really wasn’t anything of note at the American diner aside from the delicious pancakes.  The real highlights came later in the day as we first traveled in the morning to Sarchi which is famous in Costa Rica for their handmade ox carts.  They were a lot more popular and common before the advent of automobiles in the countryside, but now they are mostly used for decorative purposes or collecting.  Before we went to the workshop, our group stopped at a local bakery in the town square that was opposite the largest ox cart in the world!IMG_5147IMG_5152  Before seeing this behemoth, we perused all the different types of breads and pastries that were on sale. IMG_5153 It seemed like they had a lot of different types of bread puddings with different flavors ranging from coconut (Janice’s choice) to pineapple.  I, on the other hand, got a creme pastry that looked somewhat like a brazo de gitano (literally “gypsy’s arm”) dessert from Spain.IMG_5145  It had everything I wanted for breakfast:  soft pastry dough and plenty of sweet and light whipped filling. IMG_5146 The only downside was the excessive dusting of powdered sugar on the outside that was delicious initially but in the end left me looking like Tony Montana at the end of Scarface. IMG_5599I saved it for later though since it was quite a good amount of sugar in a short period of time.  We had a tour of the Taller Eloy de Sarchi, and some of the artwork was simply spectacular.  The colors were so bright and vibrant it looked like the animals were going to jump out at us.  IMG_5165Thankfully, it was just some fancy artwork, and we moved on toward our next destination in the form of the Arenal Volcano.  Once more, we had another roadside stop for food along the way.  This was one of many reasons why I loved our travel group!  This time, it was at a local fruit stand that had some recognizable produce like pumpkins, plantains, and pineapples, but then there were more exotic samples of Costa Rica’s countryside such as purple sweet potatoes and yuca.

Left to right:  pumpkins, purple sweet potatoes, and pineapples

Left to right: pumpkins, purple sweet potatoes, and pineapples

IMG_5174For example, a smaller cart of these odd red fruits that were a bit before the larger fruit shop we were occupying caught Janice’s eye.  She said that they looked like the combination of an apple and a pear.  One of the women in our group bought them, and lo and behold Janice was right.  Our guide informed us that they are known as Malaysian apples.  While their exterior appearance was bold and intriguing, their taste was the polar opposite.IMG_5178  It tasted like a super bland pear that could only be “enhanced” with the salt in a small accompanying bag the fruit hawker supplied our fellow traveler. IMG_5177 Another interesting entry was the green oranges that were in the same bin as yellow fruits that were completely beyond anything I’ve ever seen. IMG_5175 I bought one of the fruits that was slightly smaller than a baseball, and I found out I had to crack it open in order to eat it.IMG_5176  The exterior was the only normal thing about it.  Opening it was an adventure as I cracked through the thin yellow exterior and was quickly fingering through a white, dry, spongy material.IMG_5179  After moving beyond that, I was greeted with a grey, slimy seed pouch that was held in place with small white tendrils.  I learned that the proper way to eat this fruit called a granadilla (“small pomegranate” in Spanish) was to slurp up the black seeds along with the amniotic sack that was holding them.IMG_5181  The craziest thing were the edible and very crunch seeds.IMG_5184  It was overall a good purchase because it was actually quite delicious beyond its bizarre appearance that I could liken to a sweet orange with a tangy lime zing aftertaste.  We also bought some mangos for breakfast later on.  Our visit to the Arenal Volcano was a bust because it was completely obscured by fog and drizzle, but lunch was wonderful.  It was at a very unique restaurant called Restaurante Tobogán or “Slide Restaurant” in Spanish. IMG_5190 Why would it have such a random name?  Well, because this establishment literally had a giant water slide coming out of the top of it which led to a pool on the side that I’m sure would have been bumping if the weather was more agreeable.IMG_5191  I got the steak fajitas which once again were a lot different from the Mexican variety since there were no sizzling tabletop grills or tortillas to be seen.  The same juicy pieces of grilled steak and onions were there, but they were accompanied with a Costa Rican classic known as casado or “married/married man”. IMG_5187 It consisted of white rice, black beans, fried plantains, and a mixed salad.  The name is said to either have originated from customers asking to be served as married men and have the same food in the restaurant as they would at home, or a more plausible explanation would be that the beans and rice are forever linked in gastronomic matrimony.  It was during this meal I was also introduced to salsa Lizano which I could liken to a sweet Worcestershire sauce with a hint of spice.IMG_5186  It went great with the fajitas and beans and rice offering a salty/spicy contrast.  I also enjoyed a cool, refreshing glass of guanábana or sour sop juice.  I had tried it previously in south London in a Jamaican restaurant, and I loved it since it seemed like a sweet limeade of sorts.  However, the Costa Rican variety wasn’t as sweet and a lot frothier.  After the meal, we went to Baldi hot springs which was extremely relaxing along with us being able to fly down some water slides since we weren’t able to go down the one earlier in the day. IMG_5198 We had dinner at Baldi’s buffet, and most of it I had already tried aside from the Costa Rican version of tamales.  They were very similar to the Mexican version with the cornmeal base encasing seasoned chicken and pork, but the main difference was that they were wrapped in banana leaves and boiled instead of being baked in corn husks.  It was a calming end to a hurried day as we bonded with our fellow travelers over dinner and subsequently rode our food comas all the way back to San Jose for our next adventure.

 

Tokyo (Day 5)- A Sobering Soba Sayonara/Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Posted on

Well, this is the final day of my Tokyo adventure in this food chronicle, but I finish it with the most unique dining experience I’ve ever been a part of.  However, I should start at the beginning  in the morning with my humble breakfast at the convienence store.

I seemed to have made friends at the local Mini Stop since they guided me to my favorite snack cake section they were actively stocking when I walked in the door.  So I wanted to get something a bit different to eat, so I plumped for a roll cake with a caveman on it along with an innocent looking bun.  However, turns out the more innocuous looking sweet bun ended up being filled with savory, cold curry.  Another wonderful adventure down Japanese Illiteracy Avenue!  It wasn’t terrible though as I finished it.  Thankfully, the caveman treat was a strawberry cream cake that was light, fluffy, and filling but probably terrible for my sugar levels.IMG_1858  It tasted great though.  To drink, I got a bottle of a drink called Lifeguard that looked like it was conceived by beverage promoters on a bad acid trip.  Not only did the psychedelic pattern and maniacal looking bunny in a car catch my eye, but it also boasted having plenty of “Royal Jelly”.

I don't think I'm ready for this jelly.

I don’t think I’m ready for this jelly.

  I remembered it being related to a Futurama episode where Fry, Leela, and Bender go to a killer space-bee hive to get honey, and Leela takes a baby queen bee and royal jelly back home to make more honey.  In reality, the royal jelly actually comes from the secretions of worker bees’ heads to nourish larvae and adult queens.  Nothing like some bee head jelly to get me buzzing in the morning.  It tasted great since it was like a green apple soda with small, rubbery chunks in it that left me energized to take on the rest of the day.  I hopped on the subway to the periphery of Tokyo to see many different sights which in turn left me with a Godzilla-sized hunger to take care of.  I made my way to Shinjuku because that is where I was going to have dinner at the famous Robot Restaurant that I’ll detail later in the post.  However, it was still around lunchtime, so I waltzed into a small, local eatery on a happening street in the center of Shinjuku. I noticed they had lots of different types of the traditional Tokyo soba noodles.IMG_1885  I saw they had a similar coin operated device like in Matsuya, and I matched up the symbols from the plastic display outside to the button on the dispenser. IMG_1884 After doing some research it seems I chose Tanuki soba or “Raccoon Dog Soba” when it came out to me.  I don’t know why it’s called after a mythical creature that is known for having mystical powers including using leaves to shape shift, fly, and have enormous testicles that bring good luck.  Ghostly sexual organs aside, the soba itself was wonderful and cheap.IMG_1883  The noodles were plentiful and a bit more al dente compared to the ramen noodles from dinner the previous night in Harajuku.  The fried tofu pieces were savory that complimented the salty broth perfectly.  Overall, it was a small piece of Tokyo history that was delicious, nutritious, and affordable.  After that meal, I wasted a bunch of time before going to the oddly named Robot Restaurant.  So I got a crepe that Wikitravel recommended to get either in Harajuku or Shinjuku, so I decided to see how they measured up to the French ones.IMG_1887  It was another encounter with my friend the coin-operated ordering machine, so I matched up the symbols to the Nutella and whipped cream crepe (second row from the top on the left).IMG_1886  I didn’t understand why they couldn’t just take my order or just write it on a piece of paper.  Work flow aside, the crepe was scrumptious and elegant. IMG_1888 The gossamer thin sheet of dough encased  a winter wonderland of snowy white whipped cream strewn about a generous slathering of chocotastic Nutella.  It was the perfect compliment to watching the anti-Shinzo Abe/Olympics march going down the street.  Eventually, I made my way to the Robot Restaurant which is located in Harajuku in the infamous Kabuchiko red light district.  So while I was walking there, I was accosted by numerous guys in suits asking if I wanted some action at a very steep price.  No, man!  I came here to see some crazy robot action with very attractive women dancing.  I highly recommend making reservations in advance, and if you sign up with a friend you get 50 percent off your 5000 Yen ticket.  I got there, and they had a complete robot band in the lobby rocking out with some tunes.IMG_3483  I was led up to the waiting lounge which was decked out in psychedelic paint everywhere, and each table had a robot dinosaur that would react to your actions.  If you made it angry, it would bite your finger, or it would sleep if you petted it on its head.IMG_1900IMG_1898  Eventually, they brought us down to the main theatre, and it seemed like the entire place was an epileptic seizure waiting to happen with all of the flashing lights, garish colors, and lasers everywhere.  We sat in rows with an aisle down the middle where all the action happened.  The bento box they provided was nothing worth mentioning.  It was mainly just baked chicken with some rice rolls and a small dessert.  However, the show was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.IMG_3489IMG_3543IMG_3545  So I’ll just let the main video from their website paint you a picture along with these videos I took (I apologize for the poor sound quality):  Oppa Gangnam Robot, Drummers, or The Natives Are Restless.   I could only describe it as a mix of traditional Japanese culture, a variety show, a burlesque show, Pokemon, Kung Fu Panda, LSD, and Gundams just to name a few.  It was a great way to end a trip that was filled with good people, great food, and unforgettable times.  I recommend you go to the Robot Restaurant over all other restaurants in Tokyo just to see the spectacle I will never forget.

My last culinary triste with Tokyo before going to the airport took the form of a chocolate version of the caveman cake above, but instead of bee head jelly, I got some fruit and salt juice. IMG_1904IMG_1903 It was a combination that somehow worked where the salt balanced out the sweetness of the pear juice.  However, I didn’t leave Tokyo with a figurative salty taste in my mouth as I truly fell in love with this city, and I hope to come back one day.

Beijing (Day 5)- Bruce Lee and Me

Posted on

130 posts?  Already?  Just like Rick Ross, everyday I’m hustlin’.  So today’s post on Mastication Monologues brings us to the end of my Beijing/China adventures, but that doesn’t mean that there are going to be any lame foods on display.  From breakfast to dinner, all three meals will be bringing the heat.  So let’s start at the beginning with the most important meal of the day.  I knew already of the importance of the traditional rice porridge congee has in Chinese cuisine for breakfast, but the real challenge lie in where to find a good place that serves it?  After a bit of wandering down the main street from the Zhanglizhonglu station by my hostel, I ended up at the same 24 hour restaurant I dined at the previous night as show in my previous blog post.  That meant that I was walking in when all of the night staff was swiping out while looking at me incredulously like, “This laowai’s back?  He must be quite daring.”  I found the myriad of congee options to be overwhelming where they had options that ranged from the basic plain oatmeal-esque  all the way to the most savory with full shrimp and green onions floating in a goopy sea of white.  I’ve had chicken and congee, so I went for another choice that I never saw outside of China:  brown sugar and egg congee.  I have a bit of a sweet tooth when it comes to things in the morning, so this congee fit the bill.  To drink, I went for something called “almond juice” on the menu, but it simply ended up being regular almond milk that tastes like cow milk with a sweet bite to it.IMG_3242  Eventually my porridge came out, and I was greatly intrigued because it looked quite different than the brown sugar oatmeal I like to eat.IMG_3243  However, once I had a spoonful, I was greatly satisfied as the warmth permeated my frozen body, and the brown sugar perked up my taste buds that were feeling a little sluggish that early in the morning.  By the time I finished the whole bowl, I had a cheap, tasty meal with some stick-to-your ribs staying power that would last me until lunch after walking all over the enormous Summer Palace complex.  After seeing just a fraction of the sprawling grounds where the Chinese emperors used to spend their free time and take guests to eat at their special royal restaurant, I started getting hungry.  When I got out of the Xiyuan station, I saw a modern looking strip mall across the street that had some familiar faces like the Colonel and Pizza Hut, so I decided I would see how they would be different in China after walking around the palace.  I found myself wandering to find the Pizza Hut entrance in back when I noticed more people milling out further down the strip when I finally saw one of the catchiest fast food logos I’ve ever seen:  Bruce Lee in his yellow jumpsuit from Game of Death.IMG_1724  This is one of his most famous movies where he ascends a tower while fighting a different martial artist on each level including one Kareem Abdul Jabbar who was a student of his in real life.  Being a fan of his movies, I felt obligated to go in and try the food.  It ended up being like McDonalds, but in an Asian parallel universe.IMG_1716  I say a separate universe because western burger chains in Asian countries still have their signature sandwiches or sandwiches in general, but this place had none even though everything from the menu to the setup of the restaurant was like being at McDonalds.  While I felt somewhat comfortable with the setting, I wasn’t so much with the language and neither was the girl taking my order.  Clearly they didn’t get many foreigners coming into this restaurant compared to McDonalds where they have a separate English placard they whip out at you when you step up to order.  However, after some pointing and laughing at both our communication shortcomings, I got these beef noodles and a side of hot milk boba tea. IMG_1718 Sweet Chairman Mao!  If this is what China’s version of fast food is like, Lotteria/McDonald’s/Burger King etc. take notes.  The soup tasted almost (still not as good) like something out of my adopted po-po’s (grandmother’s) kitchen when I was in Taiwan.  That isn’t disparaging it at all though.  The greens were not stale and were steamed to perfection while the noodles were plentiful and chewy.  As for the beef and the broth, the chunks were numerous and lean, and the broth was warm and absorbed all the great flavors from the ingredients that were having a pool party in it.  The only thing I’d say that took it down a couple notches was that it was a bit salty at times.IMG_1720  As for the tea, it was expertly made with just the right blend of smooth milk and savory tea, and the girl gave me lots of tapioca balls after I pantomimed that I liked tapioca.  So if you’re good at acting, you’ll be in like Flint at this place.  After looking at the chopstick wrapper, I also found out the place is called “Real Kungfu”. IMG_1721 So if you’re hungry in Beijing and looking for amazing Chinese fast food, look for Bruce Lee ready to strike.  Finally, there was my last dinner in Beijing. However, they were on a mission to find a good dumpling place.  I found the Xianlaoman dumpling house down the street from our hostel.  It was a modest looking place inside, but their dumplings were delectable.  I got the house special which ended up being generously stuffed with minced pork, a bit of broth, and some nicely cooked shrimp inside.  IMG_1725I was greatly satisfied with the dumplings even though they weren’t too filling.  After a long stroll I ended up at a Thai place on the same street that was a bit more upscale compared to the other surrounding cafes and eateries.  Since it was my last meal, I went with a mangosteen juice and a cooked pigeon. The mangosteen is known as the queen of fruits while the notoriously stinky durian is the king of fruits.  This must have been an arranged marriage because the durian’s rotten cheese scent did not jive with the sweet and refreshing flavor I experienced when I cracked open the can. IMG_1730 As for my chicken, it was great since the banana leaves kept in all of the great curry the chicken was stewed in, and every piece was pure white meat. IMG_1731 After having to eat meat that always has bones in it for more than ten months, I devoured these scrumptious morsels.  I even tried a bit of pigeon which was a bit more of a shock platter with the head still attached while the actual meat could be likened to a poor man’s chicken:  little meat on the bone and lesser flavor.IMG_1733

%d bloggers like this: