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My Neighbor Tokoro

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Hello…helllooo..helloooooo….Is anyone still left out there that reads this blog?  It seriously has been way too long since I have posted any new content on Mastication Monologues, but such is the life of someone working on a 2nd Bachelor’s degree.  Thankfully, the light at the end of the tunnel is near, and I am looking forward to some mental rest and relaxation.  Thankfully, I won’t slack too much though because I have plenty of great reviews and food adventures to bring to you.  Today’s review involves Tokoro Sushi in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

My fiancee, then girlfriend, suggested we try the new eatery when it opened last year, and we have been back since.  However, our first visit wasn’t the most enjoyable compared to the second time.  There is mainly street parking and there are plenty of public transportation options for those of you rocking Ventra cards on the bus or L.  The interior of Tokoro looks like any other sushi restaurant complete with bamboo prints and assorted Japanese tchotchkes.  Fitting given the name of the restaurant in Japanese literally means “place”, i.e. this could be the interior of any of the other million, lower/middle rung Chicago sushi restaurants.  They have a BYOB policy and a free corkage service which helps if you care for a glass of chardonnay to go with your unagi.  Upon sitting down, we looked over their extensive sushi menu and saw most of the the typical Japanese restaurant offerings from lunch specials, soups, gyoza dumplings, sushi rolls, sashimi, and even hibachi offerings for diners searching for something a bit more substantial.  Janice and I preferred to try the figurative treasure chest of sushi that lay before  us in the menu, so we got the “all you can eat” sushi option for 20 bucks.  Some people always wonder or straight up deny that the all you can eat option is a waste of money, but when you think about it, there is some method to the madness.  Based on current trends of fishing, human consumption, and sushi demand from around the world, the price of fish, especially the fatty toro tuna, is only going to sky rocket.   Therefore, placing a cap on your wallet but not on your stomach makes perfect sense to me especially if you were as hungry as we were.  Then again, who knows if most sushi restaurants actually use the fish advertised on the menu.  The results are often times surprising.  Either way, that didn’t stop us from enjoying some good, not great sushi.  Thankfully, we got a complimentary bowl of miso soup which I think should come free with each meal in Japanese restaurants because it is such a simple but satisfying soup to make.  IMG_6101This traditional Japanese soup consists of a kelp/fish based broth and a soy based paste called, you guessed it, miso.  I have never seen it anywhere, but there are also red and mixed color miso pastes used in miso soup.  However, I greatly enjoy the white miso which is typically used in American Japanese restaurants because it is salty, savory, and has a taste that envelopes your entire body with a warmth that is enhanced with the soft cubes of tofu and slightly crunchy scallion strands.  Definitely great for the cold Chicago winters.  Once we drained our bowls, it was time to dive into our sushi.  Side note:  the service was absolutely terrible the first time around in terms of waiting for food, but thankfully they have improved their turnaround time from ordering to bringing out your order.  Our first platter consisted of the crazy tuna roll, spicy tuna roll, and mountain roll.IMG_6102

The crazy tuna roll, the one closest to the wasabi in the picture above, consisted of the rice rolled around a tuna and pepper mix and topped with slices of tuna and a sriracha chili sauce. IMG_6103 I didn’t find it to be too spicy, but it went down just fine.  The mountain roll was next which left the biggest impression on me for this round. IMG_6104 The inside was a cool cucumber and creamy avocado duo, but the real fire came from the spicy crab and spicy mayo on top that was festooned with a sprinkling of crunchy tempura crumbs.  I liked it the most out of the three selections due to the contrast between the relatively understated interior and the more eye-catching exterior.  Kind of a case of sushi superficiality, but this is a roll whose cover really makes the book a must read.  The same could not be said about the spicy tuna roll which was like the crazy tuna roll minus the “crazy” part. IMG_6105 I’m a big spicy food eater, and I didn’t think it lived up to its fiery moniker.  So it was not a big draw for me.  It was just a transition to the next sushi round we ordered.  We amped it up with a volcano roll, a kiss on fire roll, another mountain roll, and got some actual sushi on the side with a tomago, shrimp, and a piece of yellowtail.IMG_6106  I’ve already spoken about the mountain roll, but the volcano roll and kiss on fire roll were bolder than the first round participants.  The kiss on fire roll (between the raw fish and fried roll) did actually bring some spice since below the tuna there was a raw jalapeno pepper resting in wait for our unsuspecting taste buds.  I always like being kept off kilter sometimes during my dining experience, and I would recommend this roll for those who do like a bit of spice with their rolls.  Then there was the volcano roll.  Frying actual sushi is a crime against humanity, yet with rolls it kind of works.  The light, rice flour based batter goes well with the delicately constructed rolls, especially one that was bulging with spicy tuna, crab, avocado, cream cheese, and eel sauce and spicy mayo streaks across the sliced roll.  I think this was more of a luxury roll than a spice-centric entree due to the amount of ingredients that went into it.  I’d still recommend it though if you’re looking for a bit more heft to your typical sushi roll.  I did not have the tomago (egg) sushi, the shrimp, or the yellowfin, but Janice said they were all competently made but not mind-blowingly fresh/delicious.IMG_6107

So, if you’re looking for a solid, middle of the road sushi restaurant on the far northside of Chicago, roll on over to Sushi Tokoro!

Sushi Tokoro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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At the Market With My Dawgs

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Welcome one and all to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Winter has finally hit Chitown harder than a raging Ditka and has been making life miserable for most aside from snow plow drivers and snowblower vendors.  However, if you’re looking for a warm and inviting restaurant in Chicago that serves up Mexican food with a twist, check out Mercadito Counter.

Now, this post is super late since I went back in the late summer/fall, but I hope that not much has changed in this funky fresh eatery.  From the instant you walk in under the papel picado, you’re transported to a modern taqueria whose menu boasts everything from tacos to Mexican hot dogs (more to follow).IMG_4519IMG_4521  Speaking of the former Mexican staple, Mercadito Counter boasts a taco eating challenge where a diner has to eat 35 tacos in an hour.  If you gobble all of them up, you get free tacos for life but only on Tuesdays.  Naturally, there’s a catch!  After agonizing over the menu for a good ten minutes, I decided to get a steak taco, a pork taco, and The Mexican hot dog, and a Nutty Mexican milkshake.  Janice got an order of onion rings, a fundido hot dog, and a lobster dog.  While waiting for our grub to arrive, we got some of the locally made salsas that were in squeeze bottles behind where we ordered our food. IMG_4518 Eventually, it all came out and looked fantastic.  I started with my tacos.  While they were immaculately presented, their size left much to be desired based on their price (roughly 3 bucks a taco).  Ay Chihuahua! IMG_4522 Surprisingly, the steak taco was a lot more flavorful than the pork taco even though the latter had roasted pineapple chunks as a sweet caress to the ancho and guajillo slathered spicy pork.  I think I enjoyed it more because the meat itself wasn’t drowned out with lots of strong flavors, and the key lime marinade was a stroke of genius.  As for my Mexican hot dog, it was my best friend.IMG_4523  It consisted of a grilled, bacon-wrapped dog covered with pico de gallo, mayo, jalapeño relish, mustard, and ketchup.  It was an excellent example of literal Mexican American cooking where the zesty pico de gallo and jalapeño relish provided a Latino slant to the more classic flavors, and the bacon strip gave the char dog a satisfying, porky crunch with each bite.  Between bites of my food, I sampled Janice’s onion rings which were delicious since they were crunchy, large, and didn’t succumb to severe onion loss that I hate when eating the greasy bar food staples.IMG_4525  What is severe onion loss?  It’s the annoying phenomenon when biting into an onion ring only to have the entire veggie slip out leaving you behind with a crunchy shell.  First world problems, I know.  I did enjoy the chipotle dip that came on the side that gave this appetizer the south-of-the-border kick it needed.   We also used the homemade salsas on the complimentary tortilla chips that came with our hot dogs. IMG_4528 There were three different types:  the chipotle tomatillo, the habanero, and the arriera.  The chipotle tomatillo was more like a common green salsa that could be found in most Mexican restaurants where there was a lot of tomato flavor with sparks of garlic and cilantro.IMG_4527  My favorite was the arriera since it was surprisingly spicier than the habanero salsa.

Habanero salsa

Habanero salsa

 

Arriera salsa

Arriera salsa

Plus, it had epazote or wormseed in it which is a herb that can poisonous in large quantities, but in small portions it alleviates gas and discomfort during digestion.  So it was a win-win especially since we were eating Mexican food.  I also took a bite of Janice’s fundido dawg that was good but not great. IMG_4526 It was basically a Mexican twist on a chili dog with chorizo instead of ground beef on top.  I didn’t take a taste of her lobster dog, but she said it was delicious and decadence embodied. IMG_4533 Speaking of super scrumptious items on the menu, the Nutty Mexican milkshake I had was mind-blowing.IMG_4531  From the powdered cocoa powder on top along with a mix of nutmeg and cinnamon blended throughout the milk chocolate ice cream.  All of which left me filled up but not ready to explode like una bomba.IMG_4532

So if you want to check out Mercadito Counter, I’d recommend a visit, but I would get the hot dogs over the tacos since they aren’t as big of a rip off in terms of the price vs. size ratio.  Inflated prices aside, the fresh ingredients, service, and flavors made this taqueria tops for the area!

Mercadito Counter on Urbanspoon

Ribbed For My Pleasure

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Burgers, barbecue, and beer.  What more could one ask for for dinner in the summer?  Perhaps a big pool or white sand beach and plenty of sunshine instead of the dreary weather I encountered upon meeting my friends out in Schaumburg at Westwood Tavern and Tap.Front-Doors

As my friend, Erin, who thoughtfully supplied me with an umbrella, and I quickly ran inside from the rain, we were greeted with a spacious and elegantly furnished sports bar.  From the stone finishing on the walls to the towering wall of illuminated liquors behind the bar, it was a welcoming place for sports fans trying to catch the next nail-biting Hawks game or a couple out for their first date.  We were a party of three and were seated in a booth that was a bit too wide for adequate conversation between three people.  So we all had to get a bit more intimate with each other in regard to proximity which might not be as easy with larger groups in the booths.  I started by looking over the drink menu, and it was like a yellow pages for Brewtown, USA.  While I was well acquainted with most of its residents, I noticed a new neighbor on the block.  So, I gave the Black Butte Porter ($5) a warm welcome.IMG_3264  The simple label belied its pleasant, rich, chocolate/coffee flavor contained within an enveloping shade of ebony.  As for the food, I could choose from a variety of items ranging from sushi, flatbreads, salads, signature entrees, and of course, burgers.  I had a hankering for a good burger, and who doesn’t when you’re hungry?  I settled on the Baby Back Burger ($12) along with a complimentary side of fries and smoked jalapeno mayo.  I’m sure you can reason what the “baby back” in my burger derives from.  If not, perhaps this catchy Chili’s jingle can explain it for you.  Before I get to describing my meal, I do have to point out that our waiter screwed up my friends’ orders.  Erin wanted sweet potato fries, but she got normal fries.  Carolyn didn’t even get her sushi either.  I don’t know if the server was having a bad day or if there was a mix up, but he made up for it with a heaping bowl of sweet potato fries and eventually brought Carolyn her sushi. Anyway, it’s true that they put bbq rib pieces on top of my burger along with cheddar cheese, chipotle mayo, and onion strings.IMG_3265IMG_3270  I couldn’t believe it when I was looking at it.  I placed all of it together in one sexy package and proceeded to take a bite.  It was like your typical barbecue, cheddar, bacon burger sans the pork belly, but the barbecue brought a smoky sweetness that jived with the crunchy onion strings.  Even with all of this going on inside the burger, the bun managed to hold together the party on my plate.  As for the fries, they were ok, and the jalapeno mayo could have been a bit more flavorful.IMG_3267  I could see that they were trying to bring a bit of the pepper infusion to an otherwise bland condiment, but it’s back to the drawing board for this one.

Overall, Westwood Tavern has plenty to offer for diverse tastes to a certain extent, but aside from that, it’s just another fancy sports bar and grill.

 

Westwood Tavern & Tap on Urbanspoon

The DMK: The Most Flavorful Border in the World

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Burgers, burgers, and more burgers.  What is more Amurikan than a hamburger?  It is one of our quintessential exports among many other items across the globe, and I don’t blame other countries for imitating our homegrown culinary creation.  One of the reasons why I think that hamburgers are so popular is that they are simple.  A slab of meat (or vegetable matter for you vegans or Hindus out there) between two pieces of bread?  It’s the biggest thing since mankind figured out how to slice said bread.  While many would consider something simple to not be worthy of their time, herein lies the genius of the hamburger.  The basic makeup of the hamburger allows plenty of artistic licence for cooks around the world to leave their culinary fingerprints on this common menu item.  While I’ve had burgers in the Memphis, Seoul, and Pyongyang (or at least what I thought was a hamburger) to name a few locations, DMK Burger Bar in Chicago made one of the best ones I’ve had in my life.

I had tried to go to DMK for dinner before, but there was a two hour wait.  So I went there during the lunch hour with Janice, and it was easy enough to get a table.dmk-burger-bar  She had been there before, but I was curious to see what made this burger joint so popular.  Their menu had your basic burgers and sides like fries, but they went above and beyond the standard fare like sliders, bison burgers, and fried okra.  I eventually settled on the number 6 burger ($9), and we split an order of the small cheddar fries ($4).

Our food came out, and I needed a towel with how much I was slobbering.  First, there were the cheddar fries.  IMG_3256While the cheese wasn’t oozing down every nook and cranny of the fry pile, I think it helped the dish since it didn’t cause the fries to become a soggy mess.  The potato sticks were nicely fried with a pinch of salt which harmonized with the silky smooth cheese and sprigs of flavorful onions.  A prelude to the glory I subsequently experienced in the form of my burger. IMG_3258  I didn’t know whether to cross myself, grab a napkin, or bow down to the masterpiece of beef, bread, and Mexican flair sitting across from me.  After admiring my meal, I slid the buns together, I could see a bunch of guacamole peaking out from the bread.  It coated my mouth from bite one, and it was full of the zesty, cilantro tinged flavor I know and love.  The beef patty was thick, juicy, and flavorful with seasonings which were further magnified by the spicy pepper jack, piquant Mexican chorizo sausage, and creamy yet intriguing chipotle mayo.  However, the best part, I thought, was the bun.  I don’t know what it was about it, but it was semi-crunchy, fluffy, and substantial.  All qualities I dream for in a hamburger bun.  I also tried part of Janice’s veggie burger that had a fried, vegetable-based patty that had a spicy kick compliments of the red peppers.  For a meat lover, I still enjoyed this greener alternative.  If you thought my meal was done there, think again, n00bz!  I pushed DMK to the limit by getting one of their signature milkshakes ($5).  I couldn’t say no to the peanut butter flavor while Janice got chocolate.  Both of them were enticing from their chocolate swirls to the thick ice cream that filled the ice cold glasses.IMG_3260  My peanut butter shake was filled with plenty of nutty goodness, and upon tasting Janice’s shake, I felt like Augustus Gloop attempting to swim in Willy Wonka’s chocolate river.  An even better innovation was when we combined our shakes to make our own frozen Reeses peanut butter cups.  It was an all-American meal that red, white, and blue us away.

So if you want some innovative burgers and even better shakes at good prices, hit up DMK Burger Bar!

DMK Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Everything’s Bigger in Itaewon

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Hello and welcome to another installment of Mastication Monologues!  Today’s review is going to be short and sweet since I have to actually ready for a big week of teaching.  Tomorrow a new co-teacher is starting with me, and I’m quite scared since she doesn’t have any teaching experience or experience with children.  Well, at least I had a great meal today with great memories I can savor when things are possibly going downhill in the classroom.

My friend Steph and I went to Seoul to see the Tim Burton art exhibit, and it was quite the experience.  There were sooooo many people, but overall it was a fun time.  Eventually all of that walking got us really hungry.  So Steph asked me what I wanted to eat.  I might have wanted to try a new galbi place, but I really had a craving for a legit burger.  Therefore, we headed to Itaewon to The Wolfhound which apparently has the best burger in Seoul.IMG_1369  Now that might not be saying much since there aren’t many legitimate burger restaurants outside of Itaewon, but I’m always down to try new places.  It was down a side alley, but upon walking in it was like any normal Irish pub themed restaurant/bar in the States.  There was no one in the place, so it was nice to get away from the insane crowds we had to battle just to see an original sketch from the Nightmare Before Christmas.  There were a lot of great options on the menu, but I decided to go for the Big Paddy burger (about 12 bucks) since I probably wouldn’t be coming back to the restaurant in a very long time or ever again.

It came out, and I was genuinely impressed.  I could see why it is considered the best burger in Seoul.

So Western it hurts

So Western it hurts

It had a legitimate slab of beef for a patty, cheese, bacon, garlic mayo, and a hefty helping of veggies.  Plus, it came with steak fries on the side.  In Korea, those are probably as rare as a Coelacanth.  Anyway,  I quickly got down to business since I hadn’t eaten since 8:30 in the morning.

Doing work

Doing work

Upon sinking my teeth into the gargantuan burger, I was pleasantly surprised by the beef since it was well seasoned with a definite peppery aftertaste.  The bun was light but did not buckle under the pressure of the burger’s contents.  I also really enjoyed the onions, tomatoes, and lettuce since all were really fresh and were not playing second fiddle to the beef.  The bacon was also pretty good since it was western style with some seasonings on it, and it was cooked to a semi-crispy state.  The staff also provided us with pretty standard condiments like ketchup, mustard, mayo, A1 steak sauce, and Tabasco sauce.  The steak fries didn’t disappoint either.  They were very fresh, not too salty, and had fluffy white interiors.  Overall, this was the best burger I’ve had so far in Korea and closest to the American standard in terms of taste, size, and just overall quality.  So if you want a break from kimchi and seaweed, head on over to The Wolfhound for a little piece of the West in the Far East.

Only for big appetites

Only for big appetites

A Lot(teria) of Food

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Hello to everyone and welcome to another scrumptious edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I was kind of a fatty with how many things I tried, but I’m pretty sure that I’ll never eat at this place again since I don’t like to eat a lot of fast food very often.  The place I’m talking about is Lotteria.  Living in South Korea, it seems that three retail companies run/own everything:  Lotte, HomePlus, and E-Mart.  When I say own everything, their names are even on residential apartment buildings.  Talk about corporate branding run amok but just another little quirk of living in a different place.  Anyway, corporate omnipresence aside, I felt the need to try Lotteria since I never heard of it, and it seemed to be Korea’s answer to McDonalds.

It looked pretty much the same like any fancy McDonalds, but I saw some interesting options like squid rings and red crab bites  However, I don’t even eat Filet O’Fishes back at home, so there was no way I was going to be eating seafood here.  I ended up ordering the vegetable rice bulgogi burger and the shake shake chicken.  Oddly, they ended up giving me a Hanwoo Lady burger too for some reason, so I wasn’t going to argue with extra food since I’m pretty sure I’ve lost weight here with all of my radish, seaweed, and fermented cabbage ingestion.  Plus, the burgers are smaller here than in the States, naturally.

Got rice cake?

Got rice cake?

I started with the Hanwoo burger that consisted of Hanwoo beef and rice cake mixed into one patty with peppers, gochujang (red pepper sauce), mayo, and lettuce on top.  To start off, the patty was kind of bizarre.  I could taste the succulent beef, but I was oddly grossed out by the rice cake since it added a rubbery texture that offset the great beef.  I enjoyed the condiments too since it added a slightly spicy, Korean twist on an already interesting burger.  Once I got over that first mini-course, I tried the vegetable rice bulgogi burger.  This really threw me for a loop as I saw that the buns were actually made of steamed rice and dotted with corn, seaweed, and carrots.IMG_1282  Even though you would think eating a burger with rice for buns would be an absolute mess, it surprised me greatly at its versatility.  The rice, mayo, and bulgogi all came together perfectly like three drunk Korean businessmen at a noraebang (karaoke room).  It was something that looked completely ridiculous and excessive (especially with the mayo that I scraped off), but it wasn’t too bad overall.  The final act in this three-part gastronomic play was the shake shake chicken

And I helped!

And I helped!

.  It was basically the Korean fast food version of Shake and Bake.  I put the “Mexican chili” powder in the bag and shook away.  What I ended up with was small pieces of succulent chicken with what seemed like a cumin based chili powder.  I was just glad it wasn’t overly salty like ramen chili powder or Cajun powder they use on Five Guys fries.  Overall, I was pleased that I tried Lotteria because it led to me finding a mountain bridge in my neighborhood during a brisk walk after eating.  Who says fast food is solely a bad thing?

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