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If You Can Stand the Heat, Come Into This Kitchen

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Bonjou to everyone out there in the blogosphere!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues where I review restaurants and recount any funny/interesting happenings along the way.  Today I will be reviewing Heaven on Seven which is located at 224 S. Main Street, Naperville, IL 60540.

For those who have never heard of this establishment, it serves mainly creole/Cajun food.  What this means is that the food can be found mainly in/around New Orleans/Louisiana.  In every recipe you can see influences which reflect the diversity and history of the area from which this food comes.  In one dish, there can be Spanish spices, African vegetables, and it’s all prepared using French cooking techniques.  Another important element of Cajun cuisine the presence of extra spicy eats which I naturally gravitated to when looking over the menu.  When we first walked into the building, it seemed like it was Mardi Gras with streamers passing overhead throughout the entire dining room, and the entire wall of hot sauces let me know that I was in the right place.  There were also probably ten bottles of different hot sauces that ranged all the way from the more mild Tabasco sauce all the way to the colorfully named, “Ass in Space” among others…

They don't mince their words with hot sauces

They don’t mince their words with hot sauces

Along with the hot sauce bottles, we were also greeted with a free basket of sliced French bread.  It was fresh but not warm, but the accompanying spreads were both new to me.  One was honey butter which tasted like regular butter with a moderate sweet aftertaste, and the other spread was bean paste.  It was a fitting savory compliment to its sweet predecessor, but I didn’t care for it much.  The waitress also provided us with a side of free pickles with mustard seeds and onions.  I preferred this hybrid salad over the bread because the cucumbers were not completely pickled and interacted with the semi-bitter mustard seeds to create an almost sweet aftertaste.  It was a bizarre mix of textures and competing flavors that somehow worked.IMG_1088 We started the meal off with the Hot As A Mutha appetizer which consisted of a habanero chile stuffed with chihuahua cheese and surrounded by peach puree and peach salsa.  Personally, I didn’t think it was worth the money since they only give you one gigantic pepper, but the presentation was somewhat elegant as the diced peaches and light dusting of cayenne pepper on the plate offset the cumbersome-looking pepper in the middle of the display.  They didn’t pull any punches with the habanero since they left the seeds in the pepper, and the cheese was plentiful/tasty.  I also appreciated the integration of peaches with the habanero because they provided a cooling, sweet snap of the flavor whip to keep the roaring spiciness lioness at bay.IMG_1092

For my main entrée, I chose the Po’ Boy sandwich with the Angry Chicken option which came along with a cup of gumbo. IMG_1094 The gumbo was quite hearty and topped with a mini-mound of white rice that was steamed to perfection.  I never had an andouille gumbo, but this concoction was perfect with a dash of Tabasco Habanero since it really brought out the spiciness of the sausage.  IMG_1095As for my sandwich, it was kind of hard to actually eat as a sandwich because the contents were too overwhelming for the bread.  So, I had to cut the chicken into small pieces and use each piece of lightly toasted baguette as an individual sandwich.  As for its spiciness, I don’t know if my tastebuds are dead from so many years of eating really spicy food, but it really was not that spicy.  I even put on some extra hot sauce to give it a bigger kick, but I was disappointed in the spice factor.  However, the chicken breading was crunchy and had a great blend of savory spices.  The meat was succulent and plentiful.  The accompanying lettuce and tomatoes did not add much to the dish, and the latter were grainy.  I think this is due to them being out of season.  I finished with it quite quickly which shocked our waitress when I told her it wasn’t even spicy.  She looked a bit frightened and informed me of these spicy dinners they do for people who love spicy food.  Looks like I have another challenge on my hands for another day!

So if you’re looking for a little slice of the spicy, deep-fried Dirty South north of the Mason Dixon line, check out Heaven on Seven.

Heaven on Seven on Urbanspoon

Heaven On Seven in Naperville on Foodio54

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Tapa the Heap Parte 2: Le Denoument Délicieux

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Annnnd I’m back once again to pick up where I left off in this culinary cliffhanger of a blog entry.  Last time I started out talking about the overall nature of the tapas restaurant Meson Sabika, and what exactly tapas are to the world foodie community.  Now, I can finally get to the heart of the matter with the actual description of these lilliputian dishes that stand large on any dinner table.

I have had quite a few different types of tapas all over Spain from the ubiquitous pulpo gallego (Galician octopus) to the infernally chewy orejas de cerdo(pig ears)

Mmmm Tentacles

, but I can attest to Meson Sabika faithfully recreating these regional Spanish flavors stateside.  They serve both hot and cold tapas in typical Spanish fashion, so I’ll just comment on two hot tapas and two cold tapas to keep it short and sweet.  One of the cold tapas I’d recommend would be the rollito de buey (literally a “little ox roll”) which is absolutely sensational due to the fact that it uses a thinly sliced, succulent beef tenderloin wrapped around a mixture of blue cheese, dates, and Portobello mushrooms.  Now some would think that the addition of dates might turn some picky eaters off, but it provides a flourish of sweetness that nicely balances the earthy flavors of the mushroom, the acidic bite of the cheese, and the savory taste of the beef.  The second cold tapa I’d try again would be the patatas con alioli (potatoes with garlic and oil).  It’s a variant on your typical potato salad which utilizes the Catalan alioli mayonnaise that is molt creamy and packs quite a potent garlic punch.  However, I would not recommend this if you are on a very important date or business meeting since it can make your breath quite pungent depending on who’s making it that day so tread carefully (though if you love garlic as much as I do, it’s worth it everytime).

The duck but with pears, not apples

Definitely not the potato salad from your usual picnic

As for the hot tapas, it is a lot harder to just pick two  because they have greater variety and are quite more creative in terms of their presentation.  The first one you should order is the pato confitado (or duck confit for those who don’t habla español), but the name does not do this dish justice.  Although it is on the smaller size, like all the other tapas, it is a small leg of duck that has a very crunchy skin that leaves a sweet, smooth aftertaste on your tongue whilst the cinnamon apples provide a warm, contrasting texture to the duck skin.  Plus, there are mushrooms that are thrown in for good measure, but they really are not the highlight of this tapa.  As always, I saved the best for last with my number one tapa of all time:  patatas bravas.  This dish is quite possibly one of the simplest of tapas, but the one that I have seen the most variations of in terms of the preparation and taste ranging from bland, undercooked tubers to the perfectly fried potato cubes served with a side of peppery bravas sauce.  This aforementioned sauce, from what I have tasted in the states, has yet to be recreated with the same panache as they do in Spain, but thankfully Meson Sabika provides their own adequate touches to this fan favorite.  They dice up and fry fresh potatoes in a bowl while lightly covering them in a tomato based sauce that is not very spicy, and these potatoes are then covered with a generous helping of shredded Manchego cheese.

The Sauce is the Boss!

Even though this is not the traditional bravas I pine for, they are quite filling and the paprika in the sauce provides a punchy zing at the end of each bite that makes me always come back for more.

Overall, Meson Sabika provides a small slice of Spain in the Chicagoland area in the most elegant of settings.  The prices are decent, the food is fresh and delicious, and the atmosphere is ideal for any sort of occasion.  To close with two of my favorite Spanish sayings, I say hasta luego y ¡A beber y a tragar, que el mundo se va a acabar! (Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die!).

Meson Sabika on Urbanspoon

Meson Sabika-Naperville on Foodio54

Tapa The Heap Parte 1: Ze Background

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Hello to all who have been following my blog, and I am finally ready to write another one of my fantastic entries about the restaurants I have been to in my life so far.  Unfortunately, as of late it has been quite barren in terms of seeking out new eateries to sample due to various factors such as work, translation studies and saving babies from burning buildings (the last one is just a hobby).  However, after talking to some friends, they actually brought up a good idea about a genre of food that I have been ignoring for the longest time and yet have probably the best aptitude on judging the overall quality of the meal:  tapas!

Now many of you have never tried tapas or perhaps have heard a little bit about them.  First off, Spanish cuisine is nothing like Mexican cuisine (i.e. there is very little use of spicy ingredients like jalapeños, the portions for tapas are not like the Mexican burritos that are as big as an artillery shell, and a Spanish tortilla isn’t a type of flatbread but rather a gelatinous omelet of sorts just to name a few differences).

Tortilla Espanola Con Mucha Atitud

Tortillas We All Know and Love from Taco Bell

Don Queso de Cabra Española is not quite as imposing as Señor Burrito

Enough food to feed the entire midwest

Instead, the tapa style of eating is an integral part of the Spanish culture and often reflect the regional specialties in the choices of ingredients.  In terms of the history of tapas, the name of these curious little appetizers comes from the Spanish verb tapar which means “to cover”.  What exactly did these pieces of food cover you might ask aside from satiating your beckoning hunger?  Well, the legend depends on who you’re asking, but one source says that Spanish King Alfonso XIII received a glass of wine at a local tavern in Cadiz with a piece of bread with chorizo (sausage) on top of his beverage to keep flies out  and sand out of his food due to the fact that Cadiz is on the southern Spanish coast.  Presently, tapas are no longer served on top of glasses of wine but are often arranged in bars all around Spain as a sort of buffet which patrons move from bar to bar while standing and enjoying these freshly made little bites of deliciousness while also partaking in many different types of local beverages whether they be a glass of sidra (alcoholic cider common in the Basque country) or cava(a variant of champagne native to the Penedes region of Catalunya) for example.

It´s like Cheers with More Food and Less Ted Danson

After staying in Barcelona for a year and returning to the States, I longed for my dear tapas that I would often partake in after a long day working at my studies or as a meal before the discotecas at night.  After going to many different tapas restaurants around the Chicagoland area, I decided to highlight Meson Sabika located at 1025 Aurora Ave Naperville, IL 60540.  It is probably one of the most authentic taperias I have been to so far stateside, but the ambiance alone will make you fall in love with this charming eatery.

The Real Casa Blanca

The actual restaurant is quite different than the usual ethnic restaurant because it immediately creates a sense of elegance as it is housed in the mansion of a deceased millionaire from the turn of the 20th Century.  Plus, due to the spacious groundspace, they host wedding receptions in the guest house which is quite roomy and outfitted with all the amenities for a bash no one will forget…but I digress.  Upon walking in the door, you will feel as if you were taken back to a forgotten time as the narrow staircase leads upstairs to the banquet rooms as the main dining rooms on the first floor are always packed with people to the left and right of you (On weekend, I definitely recommend making reservations especially if the weather is nice).  Plus, every Friday night from 8pm to 10pm, there is live flamenco guitar and flamenco dancing which definitely adds to the overall experience of dining.

Nothing like dining al fresco

I’ll comment on the last time I was there which was this past June, and it was an absolutely gorgeous day.  So, I managed to eat for the first time outside on the patio, and the location was perfect.  Our waiter was very attentive and even explained what tapas were even though my friend and I lived in Spain, so we just nodded our heads and agreed while admiring his ardor.  To drink, we actually ended up ordering the pomegranate sangria which is not on the menu but should definitely be tried (insider tip right there!).  The wine provided a tart fruity tang with a slight aftertaste of the brandy/the chopped up oranges and lemons and limes.  If you want to try some other Spanish drinks that are quite easy to make if you’re having a big party or are looking for a new drink for the summer, I would recommend tinto de verano (summer red wine) which has many variants, but I often had as red wine mixed with lemon soda or a kalimotxo (pronounced ca-lee-moh-cho) which is 50% cola and 50% red wine.  Now that I have set the scene, the next post will expound on the mouth-watering tapas that will make you want to hop on to the next plane to the peninsula.  Hasta luego for now food fans!

Meson Sabika on Urbanspoon

Meson Sabika-Naperville on Foodio54

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