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San Diego (Day 1): I’m Going Back, Back To Cali (Yankee Pier, Lemonade)

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Time is fleeting.  Summer 2016 is flying by in the Chi per usual as kids are going back to school, and parents are happy the little monsters are out of their hair.  The last of the street festivals are attempting to be crammed into the few days of nice weather we have left before winter comes to our metropolis a la Game of Thrones (hopefully sans the army of the dead).  Luckily, I have another wonderful travelogue to bring a bit of sunshine to your day through the magic of our trip this summer to San Diego, California.

Janice had originally informed me of one of her child hood friends, Sabrina, was going to get married about a year ago, and when I finally found out where the wedding was going to be, I couldn’t be more excited.  It turned out it was going to be in San Diego, specifically Coronado Island.  The reason for my excitement was that I hadn’t been back to California in ages, and I was aching for some of that humidity-free fresh air and West coast sunshine, a definite change from this Chicago summer known more for humidity, heat, and destructive lighting storms. 21dbbc4ca53ea93620d40f5ea967b488c7fe99ae6f2b79b50d8f7ca5ab123e9d No wonder we Midwesterners are so tough.  Janice and I had an ungodly early flight, so by the time we reached our layover in San Francisco, another fun place to visit in California, we needed something to eat for breakfast beside the miniscule treats they handed out to placate us in the coach section.  As we strolled to our gate, we found a restaurant that seemed to be quite popular with our fellow travelers:  Yankee Pier.  They are a chain that has a stand alone location and another one in the San Francisco aiport, so they had a menu and service to compliment the need for people on the run.  However, this focus on culinary efficiency didn’t sacrifice the quality of the food.  I got some sort of Mexican omelet that was liberally garnished with cilantro and filled with peppers, chiles, potatoes, tomatoes, and avocado which was a major game changer.IMG_9601  With a couple splashes of Tabasco hot sauce, I turned this fiesta in my mouth from mas o menos to un bombazo!  There was plenty of flavor to savor in this omelet, and I’d recommend it if you like Mexican flavors in general.  It was so good I even caught Janice in the act of sneaking a bite or three from my plate. IMG_9603 Also, I really enjoyed their sourdough toast because it wasn’t very crispy and more on the chewy end.  Sourdough is actually part of San Francisco’s identity since it was brought to the state by French bakers in the 1840s during the famous gold rush, and Yankee Pier’s version of the iconic bread did not disappoint.  Overall, if you’re looking for a delicious meal that is also mindful of your travel time restrictions, I’d highly recommend Yankee Pier.  Once we downed our food, we were on a plane further south to San Diego.

Life is terrible

Life is terrible

Upon landing we were picked up by Janice’s friend Amber and another little companion I was not expecting.  I got in the back seat and was face to face with Ellie the Schnauzer.  She was such a good lil’ poochy, but she was ready to show us around the town with her owner.IMG_9774  Eventually, we found a place to park and walk around.IMG_9623 IMG_9610  Eventually, we had worked up a bit of an appetite, so Amber took us to one of her favorite local eateries:  Lemonade.  Apparently, it has locations all over the Golden State due to its popularity as a purveyor of healthy salads, sandwiches, and (not so healthy) sweets.  Oh yeah, and they do have their own homemade lemonades, of course! (Sorry, Beyonce fans).  IMG_9622 IMG_9621We didn’t know what to get because there was so much to choose from, IMG_9611 IMG_9612 IMG_9613IMG_9614 IMG_9615but we went with two of the cold salads:  the blt panzanella ($2.75) and the edamame salad ($2.50).  It was cafeteria style, so they scooped a generous helping of each on our plate as we slid down the line.  We also wanted to try one of the sandwiches and purchased the tomato and mozzarella ($6.95).   IMG_9616They also have a plethora of sinfully decadent looking desserts, but we did not give into them.  IMG_9617 IMG_9618 It was time to pay for our goods, and we had fun with the employees having samples of their lemonades behind the counter.  It’s not just your mother’s lemon and sugar based summer drink.  We tried the carrot ginger, hibiscus limeade, and blood orange lemonades.  The best part was that you could mix and match as many flavors as your thirsty heart desired at no extra charge.  In the end, we made a mix of the blood orange and the hibiscus tea.  IMG_9619 IMG_9776It resulted in a deep burgundy hued drink with a slightly tangy and almost cherry-esque tinged flavor profile that would cool us off after running around with Ellie the tour guide and Amber. IMG_9777 We took a seat on the patio in the front, and while the ladies were catching up, poochy was enjoying her time on my lap/losing her cool over my drink.

So calm

So calm

Maybe not

Maybe not

Eventually, we got to eating our salad and our freshly made sandwich.  The salads were fresh and light since we didn’t want to fill up before the rehearsal dinner for Sabrina’s wedding.  IMG_9620The edamame salad was seasoned with a vinaigrette and pepped up with pickled radishes, sesame seeds, and carrots.  I particularly enjoyed each firm bean imparting an earthy note to each forkful.  The panzanella was my choice (on the left), and is an antiquated recipe.  This Italian salad has been referenced in literature as early as the 16th century as a “salad of onions served with toast”.  While it has shifted in focus from onions as a base to tomatoes, it doesn’t take anything away from this hearty side dish.  This savory salad consisted of basically a BLT sandwich with arugula vinaigrette soaked pieces of bread, turkey bacon, avocado, and tomatoes.  It’s definitely a salad for those who don’t love traditional salads, i.e. healthy ones.  As for the sandwich, it wasn’t anything of note.  Yes, it was fresh and handmade, but I’ve had a caprese sandwich before. IMG_9781 I’d like to try one of their other more noteworthy creations the next time we’re in town.  Once we downed our amazing meal, we bade Amber and Ellie farewell (but not forever) and made our way to our airBnB.  We donned our finest duds and Uber-ed over to the picturesque Coronado golf club for the bride and groom’s rehearsal dinner. IMG_9782 While we were wasting time before everyone showed up, we played some Pokemon Go, and I got caught in the act. IMG_9783 Eventually, both families and their friends arrived, and we had to stop being antisocial.  It was a great night meeting Janice’s friends from long ago, the bride’s giant family, and eventually bonding with a good number of the younger folks of the wedding party going around catching Pokemon.  Also, the food and drink was phenomenal.  We went to the restaurant that catered the event on our last day, so I’ll save my review for that post.  It was such a great time overall, in fact, we stayed until the staff kicked us out of the clubhouse.  If this first day was any indication of how the rest of our visit in San Diego was going to transpire, I couldn’t wait for the big day tomorrow!  IMG_9784Stay tuned for part 2…

Yankee Pier Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lemonade Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Mother of All Posts: 4 Great Mother’s Day Restaurants

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Finally I am free to write!  I’m very sorry that I haven’t been able to write lately since I’ve been going through a whole sort of life transition with going into a completely new career, but that doesn’t mean that I will forget about loving and writing about food.  Today’s post deals with four great brunch places for tu mama, and is presented to you by my blog, Mastication Monologues, and OpenTable.com in honor of Mother’s Day.  If you want to check out more great picks for Mother’s Day and make reservations for your family, check out OpenTable’s Mother’s Day promo page with plenty of offers!

1.  Kanela

Kanela is one of the best brunch places that I’ve been to in Chicago, and I’m sure they will pull out all of the stops to make your mom feel special. IMG_4818 I would highly recommend making reservations for this place since the place isn’t huge and is very popular with the locals.  It’s on the northside of Chicago nearby the iconic Wrigley Field, and while the Cubbies might be the lovable local losers, you won’t lose anything except your mind with Kanela’s delish dishes.  I would highly recommend their monkey bread to start off with one of their smoothies on the side.IMG_4808  For the entree, you can’t really go wrong.  If you like sweet things, I’d recommend the red velvet french toast.  However, if savory is the name of the game, try the spicy Feta omelet that is jam packed with whipped semi-spicy cheese and all wrapped up in a layer of fluffy eggs.

2.  M. Henry

Then there is M. Henry in the Andersonville/Little Sweden neighborhood which is also on the northside of Chicago.  IMG_3298While it doesn’t specialize in meatballs and cold herring as the area would suggest, they have plenty of noms for your mom to enjoy.  Everyone swears by their extremely fruity bread pudding aside from me, but try it for yourself and let me know what you think.  While I got their granola pancakes that were also swimming in fruit juice, my girlfriend’s huevos borrachos were fantastic for a savory option. IMG_3293 It’s not my cup of tea, but everyone else that has been there has raved about it.  So I’d still recommend trying to fight the crowds at this very popular brunch establishment.

3.  Bongo Room

While the name might sound like a funky, nighttime hangout, it’s actually quite a quaint and modern breakfast restaurant that is serving up unique and mouth-watering fare for the masses.  It’s actually right down the street from M. Henry, so if it’s too full there, you can always pop on over to the Bongo Room.  IMG_3644Once again, I cannot stress the importance of making reservations!  I’ve been there twice, and you get GIGANTIC portions for the price.  My personal favorite are the white chocolate and pretzel pancakes. IMG_3647 Not only are they bigger than your face, but they combine the best of both sweet and salty that everyone loves with chocolate covered pretzels.  If you don’t have that big of a sweet tooth, they also have plenty of options for you savory lovers out there.

4.  Walker Brother’s Pancake House

Finally, there is the oldest of the bunch in the form of the Walker Brother’s Pancake House.  If you like a lot of history and a lot of great food for delicious prices, I highly recommend this Chicagoland favorite.  The original one that I went to in my first post about it (you can read it in this section’s title). IMG_4201 This place was bumping when we went there for breakfast, and I’m sure it will be bursting with patrons on Mothers’ Day.  They have a very extensive menu filled with classics like bacon and eggs and other more exotic entries like blue crab Benedict which is like eggs benedict with the addition of some decadent crab meat.  I, however, was following Janice’s lead when I went there.  If you’re really hungry, go for the pancakes since they are gargantuan and oh sooooo good.  I would recommend the apple cinnamon pancake or the Dutch baby pancake.  IMG_4199The former can be served a la mode which is totally worth it while the latter is a lot less intense, but still filled with plenty of mouth-watering powdered sugar and lemon juice for a tart and sweet contrast. IMG_4197 Plus, the surroundings of dark wood and Tiffany glass aren’t too hard on the eye either.

So there you have it.  Four great Mothers’ Day locations for brunch in the Chicagoland area that focus on quality food at prices that are easy on the old wallet.  If you want to make reservations at any of these establishments or others, please check out OpenTable.com.  Bon appetit!

Cinfully Delicious

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A common phrase in English is “the breakfast of champions” which is often used to describe a specific foodstuff or collection of drink and food that will transform someone into a winner.  However, a tougher title to achieve is “champion of breakfasts”, especially in a big and competitive market like Chicago.  Now, I’ve had my fair share of flapjacks, scramblers, and skillets, and it’s really just the tip of the bacon-wrapped iceburg.  Not all diners are created equal though.  Kanela is one of those special franchises that has slowly, but surely, taken over the Chicago breakfast scene.

κανέλα” or Kanela means “cinnamon” in Greek, and this Greek American establishment of the same name is a temple to this once rare ingredient.  I love my spices and seasoning, but I think that cinnamon is my favorite.  Whether it’s in rolls, doughnuts, or French toast, I can’t get enough of the powdery and savory spice.  So, when I heard that we would be paying a visit to it for a morning meal, I was over the moon.  It had a modest exterior that belied its popularity as people were milling outside waiting for a table. IMG_4818 Thankfully, there is free parking nearby and on the street if you’re looking to take a large group to enjoy all of the great breakfast options we soon thereafter started sampling.  The place was absolutely poppin’ on a Sunday morning, go figure, but we got a table for two in no time. IMG_4817 We started the meal off with drinks.  Janice got a Bloody Mary that was extra spicy and made with Absolut Peppar vodka to give it that peppy kick to wake you up and/or chase the mad dog of a hangover from last night away.  IMG_4802As for me, I went the healthier route with the PB & J smoothie ($6) which consisted of peanut butter, blueberry, strawberry, and organic agave nectar which is a slightly healthier alternative to regular sugar but much better than artificial sweeteners.IMG_4805  Fun fact:  the agave is the same plant that tequila is derived from as well, but don’t expect any sort of alcoholic punch with this natural sugar substitute. Surprisingly, this large glass of cooling ambrosia isn’t as sweet as you would imagine. IMG_4803 It managed to capture the soul of the elementary lunch school staple with a splash of peanut butter mixing with the sweet fruits and syrup but in a much more understated manner.   Once we had our beverages in hand, we started the food fest by sharing an order of monkey bread ($4).  It came out and looked simply sinfully delicious.IMG_4808  I often wondered why people call it “monkey bread” since it doesn’t look like something a monkey would eat or shaped like some sort of simian.  After a bit of research, the origin of the sweet treat’s name is shrouded in mystery, but one theory postulates that its cracked and bumpy surface bears a certain resemblance to the bark of the monkey puzzle tree that grows in South America.  With one bite of this appetizer, we went ape.  Each piece we pulled apart from the bread was more flavorful than the one that preceded it.  The cinnamon dusted on top combined with the honey drizzled on top made it taste like a mixture between a dulce de leche roll I had in Costa Rica and a classic cinnamon roll.IMG_4807  Plus, it was slightly warm that pushed this dessert to the next level.  For our entrees, Janice got the duck confit hash ($12) while I ordered the spicy feta omelet ($11).  First, I have to mention that if you are any type of Greek restaurant or even just a restaurant owned by a Greek, you will get giant portions for your money.  Kanela holds to this axiom.  The duck confit hash looked mouth-wateringly good especially with the orange truffle vinaigrette that really piqued my interest and taste buds. IMG_4809IMG_4813 Thankfully the duck wasn’t too greasy either which can often be a pitfall when ordering the fowl for a meal.  As for my spicy feta omelet, I really loved the fresno pepper garnish that served as a flashpoint of the meal. IMG_4814 Its bright red skin immediately drew my attention at the newborn baby-sized omelet that was lying in front of me.  IMG_4815The ends weren’t that packed with any sort of filling, just fluffy eggs.  However, I soon got to the business end of things as I was greeted with a thick pocket of tyrokafteri cheese, red onion, and tomatoes. IMG_4816 My advice for anyone wanting to get this is that it’s not terribly spicy, and make sure that you love feta cheese because there’s half of Greece’s supply in just this one omelet.  So if you aren’t as big of a cheesehead as me, then consider yourself warned.  It’s not for the faint hearted.  The onions made a minimal impression on my palate, and the tomatoes were negligible.  The potatoes on the side were not too greasy or too dry, and they worked well when mixed with the omelets or just on their own.

By the end of meal, we were stuffed and satisfied with our trip to Kanela.  For the price, portion sizes, and overall quality of ingredients, Kanela can’t be touched.
Kanela Breakfast Club on Urbanspoon

Bongo A-Go-Go

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Happy 4th of July, ‘Murika!  What is more American than a new Mastication Monologues post about stuffing my face with delicious food that comes in gargantuan portions that would feed a family for a week?  Nothing…well, except maybe this .  Today’s restaurant review takes me to Andersonville in Chicago to the famed Bongo Room.

I had heard through the grapevine that this establishment knew how to sling some delicious brunch items to fill some growling, hungry and possibly hungover bellies.  I knew I had to check it out since I also caught wind of their portion sizes being insanely large.  I went there on a weekday morning, and I found it quite easy to park in their minuscule parking lot on the side along with procuring a table upon walking in.  However, they don’t take reservations, and if you go on a weekend, you will have to brave the hungry hordes that I often see milling about outside their doors.IMG_3644  Anyway, I was just there by myself, so I decided to sit at the bar since I didn’t want to take up one of the larger tables that were perfectly spaced and designed for the dining room.IMG_3651  The bartender gave me the main menu along with a list of specials.  It wasn’t as extensive as a Greek diner or other chain breakfast places I’ve been to, but they did have plenty of creative entries like a similar Andersonville diner, M. Henry.  I looked over the omelets, French toasts, and pancakes they had to offer, but it was like trying to pick your favorite child.  So, I asked the bartender what she would recommend, and she picked what I was leaning towards initially:  white chocolate and caramel pretzel pancakes ($10.50).

After a bit of waiting, they finally came out.  I honestly didn’t know how they managed to fit in the pretzels in this plate that looked almost like a canvas that should be hanging in the MOMA. IMG_3647 I almost felt bad that I would have to sully the milky white and golden lattice pattern that covered these monstrous cakes, but I sallied forth to my delectable date with destiny.  From the first forkful I was hooked.  The actual pancakes were light and fluffy, and the white chocolate sauce that covered them wasn’t thick like frosting but rather an extremely thin syrup made thicker with the presence of divine caramel.  This sauce was the key to the success of these pancakes while at M. Henry I was very disappointed in their bliss cakes.  M.  Henry went the healthy route with berry juice, but the problem was that they used way too much of it.  The sauce itself was too watery which the cakes absorbed too quickly, and in turn, left me with a plate of soggy flapjacks.  The Bongo Room, on the other hand, did coat their pancakes with a lot of sauce like M. Henry but with just enough to coat every inch of them and no more.  I didn’t interrupt another pancake pool party for breakfast.  Plus, the sauce was thicker which meant that it infiltrated the pores of the pancakes much slower than the thin berry juices.  Take notes, M. Henry.  You have good ideas and ingredients for bread-based recipes, but you need to tweak them to make them truly great.  Anyway, there is also the pretzel element of this dish that I found quite novel.  As I cut through my meal, I would occasionally be greeted with actual pieces of pretzels, salt and all, between the sweet folds.IMG_3649  I inquired with the bartender how they integrated these pretzel fragments into the meal, and she said that they are sprinkled in as the cakes are on the griddle.IMG_3650  Much to my surprise, they were not soggy at all and provided a great crunch to offset the more delicate pancakes.  The saltiness of the pretzels were a double edged sword since it was a masterstroke to combine it with the sweet white chocolate and caramel, but at times towards the end of the meal, the salt seemed to be a bit too much for my palate to handle.  Either way, this snowy white chocolate dish left me in a winter wonderland in the middle of summer.  I ate all of it so fast that the bartender asked if I wanted to lick the plate, but I wanted to preserve a bit of self respect after the dust settled from my feeding frenzy.

I was greatly satisfied by The Bongo Room.  From service, environment, price, portion size, and overall quality, they got it all.  Even though their menu isn’t encyclopedic in comparison to other nearby establishments, The Bongo Room makes up for it with fewer dishes done so well that they make everyone want to come back for more.  Just don’t cut in front of me while we stand in line, and I’ll see you there.

The Bongo Room on Urbanspoon

Passed with Flying Flavors

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Finally, Korean winter is here complete with chilly winds that were noticeably absent during the sweltering summer along with the occasional snow storm.  It’s still not as bad as back home in Chicago, and I’m glad that I grew up in the crucible of Chicago winters it since it seems like a piece of cake  in Korea so far.  However, I don’t mind going to new restaurants that make me forget about the cold and instead feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  This is how I could describe my dining experience at the Flying Pan in Itaewon in Seoul.  It’s quite easy to get there.  You just go to the Itaewon metro stop and go out exit two.  Walk out straight until you see the Ctrl A on your left hand side.  Make a left on that street, and after walking straight for a minute, you’ll see the Flying Pan’s stairway leading down to the entrance.1550626_image2_1

First off, I knew was going to have a great time there simply based off the name of the establishment because it’s a linguistic pun.  With many Far East Asian languages like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, it is difficult for native speakers to differentiate between the letters “L” and “R” while pronouncing words.  Therefore, the logo of the restaurant is a flying frying pan.  I don’t know if they did that on purpose or not, but I think it’s genius.  As for the decor, it’s a cozy little dining nook that could almost double as someone’s living room complete with couches, pillows, and decorative vases.

A culinary sanctuary from the cold

A culinary sanctuary from the cold

I took it all in along with the gigantic menu while waiting for my friend, Bora.IMG_1300  I could see that they had brunch options all day along with French toast, pancakes, omelets, and sandwiches.  It’s not cheap which is typical for foreign fare in Korea with a range of prices from 14,000 W to 25,000 W.  Eventually, Bora joined me, and we made our choices.  I went with the bacon French toast (15,000 W), and she got the farmer omelet (17,000 W).

Mine came out first, and I thought they could have done a bit better on the presentation instead of the slapdash creation that lay in front of me.

Ah ma cherie!

Ah ma cherie!

Then again, I could really care less what it looks like as long as it’s delectable, and boy oh boy was this French toast tres magnifique.  Most people associate French with being the language of love, and I think I needed a private moment with this mademoiselle.  Not only did it have a soft, brioche battered body, but it was further enhanced with some non-crispy bacon that was flung about its shoulders like some form of pork boa sans feathers.  The syrup was standard maple syrup, but one big surprise was the hunks of pale yellow spread that I originally thought were globs of butter.  I’m not a big fan of butter on my pancakes or French toast, but I tried some of it just to be sure.  Good thing I didn’t neglect them because they turned out to be nuggets of cream cheese.  What’s more French than putting some delicious cheese on some quality, fried bread?  The other big surprise was the secret stash of apricot marmalade that was lurking between the folds of the toast which went quite well with the smooth sweetness of the syrup and eggy-goodness of the French toast.  The strawberries were fresh and slightly tart and were the proverbial cherries on top of the masterpiece.  As for Bora’s omelet, I tried a couple bites and then a couple more as she put more on my plate since I was still hungry/she’s a sweetheart. IMG_1303 The eggs were fluffy and seemingly infused with a slightly strong tasting white cheese possibly an aged Camembert.   It was eggcellent with the grilled greens on top along with the sauteed mushrooms and roasted cherry tomatoes.  We left the restaurant for some adult libations, but my pain perdu would not be lost on me.  Definitely in the pantheon of top three best breakfast meals I’ve ever eaten…for dinner.

So, if you’re looking for some wonderful breakfast that doesn’t really have the greasy spoon prices but plenty of quality flavors, jet on down to the Flying Pan.  You’ll be over the moon once you’ve tried it.

Egg and Rice That’s Really Quite Nice

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Hello and welcome to another installment of Mastication Monologues!  Today is a pretty laid back day, but last night was a special dinner for one of my friends who is having surgery on Friday.  So we went out to wish her good luck and have a safe procedure.  We ended up going to a kimbap chungu called Tomato Kimbab.

I couldn't get their entire Engrish slogan in the shot sadly

Got to love the Engrish slogan.

Now you might be wondering to yourself, “Hey Mark, what in the name of kimchi is a kimbap chungu?”  Well for all of those uninitated to Korean cuisine, a kimbap chungu is a sitdown restaurant that serves Korean cuisine stalwarts that range from different varieties of bibimbap, kimbap (hence the name), jjigaes (soups), and even one of my personal favorites, tonkatsu.  These restaurants also serve a good amount of food for a decent price.  However, instead of getting bibimbap like everyone else in the party, I went for a Japanese dish that was adopted by the Koreans and once again slightly modified:  omaraisu (오므라이스).  Like other foods in the Korean diet, this meal was born out of the Japanese occupation of the country which spanned from 1910 to right after World War II.  The name itself is a contraction of the words, “omelet” and “rice” pronounced in a Korean fashion.  It’s a relatively simple but delicious idea for a dish.  First, there is the omelet shell that should be thin yet strong enough to withstand the stresses of holding in all of the delicious rice inside.  As I just mentioned, there is the second element of the rice which lurks within its large, yellow coccoon.  Most of the time it’s chicken fried rice with vegetables like peas and carrots which is flavored with beef stock, but sometimes it can even have pieces of spam or hot dogs in it (a culinary trace of Amurica from after the Korean War).

After everyone in my party received their bowls of regular bibimbap and dolsot bibimbap, I got my food last, but it looked absolutely perfect. IMG_0081 It was about the size of a football or perhaps a small baby, but I was ready to get it in my belly.  There was also a generous drizzling of ketchup on the top that looked like an audacious thunderbolt alerting me to the amazing flavors contained within the meal in front of me.  I also utilized some of the sweet, semi-glaze on the side to balance out the ketchup.  Once I opened up the yellow blob, a ton of fresh chicken fried rice spilled out and was piping hot.  Once the raging inferno inside the omelet subsided, I tried a forkful of the rice, and it was delicious.  The rice wasn’t over or undercooked, and the chicken pieces were juicy and just the right size to not need a knife.  As for the egg, it was light and fluffy and went well with the tangy ketchup and the sweet brown gravy.  Overall, it was a good meal, and Tomato Kimbap does make a mean omaraisu.  If it’s your first time having it, I guarantee you won’t have egg on your face due to a bad meal.

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