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A Capital Idea!

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Welcome one and all to part deux of Restaurant Week on Mastication Monologues!  If you’re not sure what Restaurant Week is in Chicago, then I highly recommend reading my first post at Hub 51.  Today’s post is somewhat in the similar but even classier vein of high end dining for low low prices.  While I’m all about trying new and exotic foods, my meal at Capital Grille in Chicago was classic steakhouse dining at its finest.  While it’s not one of the old stalwarts of steak in the home of the dearly departed Union stockyards, I really enjoyed my experience at this establishment.

While walking to Capital Grille, I saw that they had valet parking which is a great deal in a part of down that isn’t known for cheap/free parking.  The outside was just a hint of the regal interior inside that had all the pomp of a classic steakhouse down to the dark wood bar and portraits of random white guys sporting some facial hair that would make any modern day hipster proud. IMG_5810IMG_5834IMG_5833 IMG_5832 Capital Grille even has personal wine kiosks for clients who are willing to pony up the cash for their pinot noir, but the coolest thing I thought was that they even had a cabinet for wine for what seemed to be for anyone who is or has served in the armed forces. IMG_5835 I was quickly led to the table for our guys night out that quickly became a double date plus two dudes.  Still, it was a good time had for all as we kicked off the dinner with some drinks.  I got a glass of the Jameson 12 year Reserve.IMG_5815  This drink was smoother than James Bond and Ron Burgundy in a velvet room.  It was the perfect compliment to the free bread basket that was filled to the brim with crisp flatbreads, warm slices of black rye bread, and rock hard rolls (not a fan, personally). IMG_5813 So, since it was Restaurant Week, I went with the accompanying $33 menu which was a bargain for a three course meal.  For my first course, I went with the wedge with blue cheese and applewood smoked bacon.  Initially, I had to ask the waitress what a “wedge” was since I was curious what this wedge consisted of, and she sarcastically answered that it was a type of salad.  When it came out, it all made sense.  Looking at it, it seemed like the laziest salad ever created. IMG_5817 It literally was a quarter of a head of lettuce with dressing and bacon pieces adorning it and sliced tomatoes placed at the foot of this odd looking dish.  So, I proceeded to sliced the lettuce piece to bite-sized pieces along with mixing it up with the extremely decadent ranch, blue cheese chunks, and bacon.  It was the Paula Dean of salads given how fattening it was yet oh so tasty with the tangy dressing mixing with the salty bacon and pungent blue cheese.  It was only a prelude to the epic entree that came out soon thereafter in the form of the 14 oz. bone-in, dry aged sirloin steak along with a side of mashed potatoes and french beans with heirloom tomatoes. IMG_5824 Funnily enough, the girls at the table got the smaller, 8 oz. filet mignon, but that didn’t take away from its quality. IMG_5823 When I dug into the sirloin, it was heaven in meat form.  I got it medium rare which meant that it still was a bit bloody but well done enough to keep in all of the juicy flavors. IMG_5825 It was superbly succulent, and a generously sized piece of steak for the price.  The sides were equally exquisite.  The mashed potatoes were creamy and buttery, and the beans were neither too firm nor too soft.IMG_5822  Then there were the desserts…lord, the desserts.  First, I got the flourless chocolate espresso cake.IMG_5830  It was like a slice of fudge that wasn’t as sugary and not as crumb based as a typical slice of cake.  This texture combined with the intense dark chocolate flavor with coffee hints in each forkful made it hard to beat, and the raspberry sauce was the icing on a cake without equal.  My other dining companions tried the creme brulee which looked lip-smacking good, but sadly I didn’t get to try it. IMG_5831 However, based on their gleaming white bowls at the end of the dessert course, I could only assume they liked it!

So if you want to try a slice of Chicago’s steak culture in the heart of the city, check out Capital Grille.
The Capital Grille on Urbanspoon

The Cape of Great Food

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be bringing you a bit of the Rainbow Nation, a.k.a. South Africa,in the form of the restaurant  Braai Republic.  Here’s how to get there:  Come out of exit 4 of Itaewon Stn. (line 6), walk straight and turn left at the alley just before the McDonald’s. Go through the intersection, past the Juliette clothing store, and Braai Republic is on your left on the second floor.IMG_0543

When we first arrived on a Saturday evening around 6:30 pm, we were greeted with a wall of people in the establishment.  Little did we know that Saturday evenings was the worst time to come and eat.  So instead of my entire group of friends coming to eat with me, it just ended up being my one friend, Aaron, and I sharing a table with another American couple since it was so crowded.

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

I personally enjoyed this aspect of the restaurant because it encouraged more socialization over the meal.  A welcomed change from most restaurants where diners are more engrossed in Instagramming their food and ignoring the person they’re sitting with.  I definitely had my cell phone away as I was soaking in the South African inspired decor like the zebra skins on the wall, a rugby match on the tv, and the extremely enthusiastic South African owner who was called everyone, “Bru” while making sure they were having a good time.

Is it black with white stripes or white with black stripes?

Is it black with white stripes or white with black stripes?

I felt like I was in Blood Diamond with Danny Archer.  Leo references aside, I scanned the menu and decided to get the Hunter’s Gold cider (5,000 Won) along with the oxtail potjiekos (11,000 Won) (pronounced “poy-kos”).  A lot of the other options were meat centered like lamb chops and meat pies and for good reason.  The name of the restaurant, “Braai Republic” references the South African tradition of grilling meat.  The word “Braai” in Afrikaans means “grill”.  However, there still are some veggie options like various types of mashed potatoes, cole slaw, and pap which is like polenta.  I didn’t know what to expect from the meal, so I was quite intrigued when my plate came out.

On it was a pile of plain mashed potatoes, orange and white cole slaw, and a small black pot which I naturally concluded was my potjiekos (in Afrikaans, it means “small pot food”).IMG_0548  When I opened it up, I was face to face with a whole lot of meat. IMG_0549 A potjikos is a remnant from the Afrikaaner frontier culture where they would stew different vegetables, cuts of meat, and bones together in a pot at the end of each day after exploring the South African wilderness.  I could definitely taste the rustic origins when I finally tucked into it as I was greeted with extremely tender pieces of ox tail mixed in with bone shards.  Take your time when eating this dish because you might swallow a bone if you’re not careful.  I also stumbled upon the occasional potato lurking below the savory broth like some sort of delicious starchy manatee.  If you’re a traditional meat and potatoes kind of person, this restaurant would be your Valhalla (a viking heaven but with funnier accents and more barbecue).  Even though I was going to town on my pot of ox, I tried a bit of my table mate’s lamb pie.  I would get that in a heartbeat next time I came to Braai Republic.  Then I tried my sides.  The mashed potatoes were severely disappointing.  True, the texture was just short of creamy, but they were extremely bland.  I can’t stress this enough even when I put salt and pepper on it.  The cole slaw was also quite pedestrian, but then again, I’m not the biggest proponent of cole slaw.  Thankfully, the potjiekos was quite filling and made up for the side order of mediocrity.  The Hunter’s cider was alright as a beverage to the meal, but it was a bit too sweet for my liking.  However, I wasn’t prepared for the greatness for dessert.IMG_0547

My friend Aaron had been raving for the longest time about their cheesecake, so I was naturally obliged to try it.  With my pie-in-the-sky expectations, this cake didn’t disappoint.IMG_0550  It was topped with caramel that was sweet yet slowly developed a more intense flavor with an almost coffee-esque flourish with every bite.  Then there was the actual cake which was light and fluffy.  It wasn’t dense like traditional cheesecake but rather had a whipped consistency that didn’t leave me feeling stuffed at the end of the meal.  The crust was a bit more straight forward forming a solid crumb base for the amazing flavor dance party going on above it.

In the end, if you love meat dishes or are just looking to try some of the best cheesecake around, I highly recommend Braai Republic.

Happy trails, Voortrekkers!

Happy trails, Voortrekkers!

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