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These Are a Positively Delicious Discovery (BienMeSabe)

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*Opens door*  Hello?  Anyone still here?  Well, for those of you still around and searching for my latest restaurant review, look no further!  Welcome back to Mastication Monologues, and it truly has been too long.  I’m in my final quarter of my graduate speech pathology program, and for once I found some time to write a post about a cuisine that is often overlooked in the pantheon of Latin cuisine:  Venezuelan food.  Although Venezuela is typically known for their beauty queens winning Miss Universe, their political turmoil, or Fred Armisen’s portrayal of an obnoxious Venezuelan ambassador on Parks and Rec, their food really should be their most famous export.  Today I will be reviewing a wonderful Venezuelan restaurant called BienMeSabe located at 1637 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60613.

Bienmesabe” literally translates to “It tastes good to me”.  My wife and I were saying that and more throughout our entire experience at this wonderful paradoxically hidden yet well known gem to the locals and Venezuelan baseball players and managers like Ozzie Guillen, Miguel Montero, and Carlos Zambrano.  The restaurant is run by Chef Pedro Ron, a professionally trained chef from the Culinary Institute of Caracas, who has owned restaurants in Venezuela and in the USA.  Even before we entered the restaurant, we admired their homage to their indigenous populations on the side of the restaurant outside.   Their charming patio was calling our name in addition to their extensive menu.  On his third voyage to the Americas, Christopher Colombus regarded Venezuela as a “paradise on earth”, and the country has been blessed with a bounty of assorted produce and various ingredients that are the result of a melange of indigenous, Spanish, Italian, and African flavors as highlighted throughout their menu.  We started our meal with drinks.  BienMeSabe offers your typical soft drinks but also fruit smoothies and Venezuelan beverages.  Naturally, I went for the most authentic drink possible recommended by our waiter, and I ended up getting a small chicha or a rice milk smoothie ($5.75 small/$11.75 large).  The word “chicha” has a murky origin since it can be found in various forms from Mexico to Argentina, but the Royal Spanish Academy states that it most likely comes from the word “chichab” or “corn” in the Panamanian indigenous Kuna language.  The Venezuelan version relies on rice that is boiled and mixed with milk, condensed milk, and cinnamon which results in a rich, creamy vanilla milkshake/horchata-esque beverage that is poured over ice.  It would be a great drink on a hot summer day.  We were quite hungry that day, so we wanted to get an appetizer. We eventually landed on the tostones  from the Spanish verb “tostar” or “to toast” ($7.25).  These twice fried plantains hit the spot.  They were nestled beneath a comforter of Caribbean cheese, crema, slightly spicy chili sauce, and green onions.  If you’re looking for a savory, salty, yet light treat, these would be great right next to a cool beer.  It was then time for the main course:  las arepas!  Structurally, an arepa is like the love child of an English muffin and a tortilla.  It has a maize base and the heft of an English muffin minus the nooks and crannies.  Plus, it is one of the few aspects of Venezuelan cuisine that has remained unchanged since pre-Colombian times and is still popular to this day.  Currently, 70% of Venezuelans eat arepas for at least one of their meals as a side, and they function like bread for sandwiches typically.  BienMeSabe has a great variety of ingredients, both for meat lovers and vegans, to fill their homemade arepas.  I decided to go with the more authentic bochinche (Venezuelan Spanish for “a loud social gathering”) arepa ($13.95).  I could see why its name was apt because it was a house party packed with chunks of sausage, plantains, homemade cheese, and fresh avocado slices. Talk about an interesting guest list!  From the first bite, I was ready to join the fiesta.  The sausages were covered in a chili sauce that had a low and slow burn that was balanced with the cool, more neutral cheese and savory avocado.  The plantains provided occasionally sweet notes to the mainly savory meal but were not out of place.  The garlic sauce on the side were the perfect compliment to the sausages.  The best part was that the arepa held up to some serious munching a large amount of ingredients in a small package.  I couldn’t say the same as some burgers or tacos that I’ve tried in the past.  If you’re not in the mood for arepas, BienMeSabe also has salads, burger, traditional grilled Venezuelan meats, and fish entrees.

Overall, I highly recommend BienMeSabe if you’re tired of typical tacos and burritos and want to experience freshly made Venezuelan cuisine in cozy surroundings.

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Tierra del Fuego

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What’s up, everyone out there!  Welcome to another funky-fresh edition of Mastication Monologues!  While the weather has been getting better, that means that more and more people are getting out and about in Chicagoland.  During much colder times, Janice and I visited the Firehouse Grill in Evanston and had a wonderful time there.IMG_4356

IMG_4357The overall ambiance is of the general pub variety, so no need to bust out your Sunday best when checking out this casual eatery.  Looking over the menu, it wasn’t pages and pages of items, but what Firehouse does offer is tons of variety on every page.  You want bacon wrapped jalapenos?  Pierogi?  Sweet smoked pork tacos?  You got it!  We started our meal with a couple of drinks.  I got the decadent cookie dough milkshake ($5) while Janice got the Secret Stache Stout.  My drink was as delicious as it sounds with plenty of creamy vanilla ice cream jam-packed with pieces of chocolate chip encrusted cookie dough, IMG_4351IMG_4352IMG_4479and Janice’s beer was a super stout with hints of vanilla and chocolate throughout the ebony brew. IMG_4353 As for an appetizer, Janice was feeling the warm pretzel with the warm cheese sauce on the side ($7). IMG_4354 We shared it, but I don’t think it was worth it.  True, the bread was warm, soft on the inside, and slightly crispy on the outside, but it was on the smaller end along with an extremely liberal coating of salt atop it.  Not my style.  However, my entree ended up being the Gaucho Burger ($13).  It was simple but everything I enjoyed in a burger.  The goat cheese was plentiful, and the chimichurri sauce on the side was the icing on this cake of beef. IMG_4355 I could now see why they called it the Gaucho Burger because of two clearly Argentinian cultural items.  First, the gauchos were like Argentina’s answer to America’s cowboys, but they dressed a little differently, din’t carry guns but a giant knife instead, and were more prone to violence even over extremely small things.  Second, there is the chimicurri sauce that is an icon of Argentine cooking.  The South American country is well known for its high quality steak, which was connected to the gaucho’s herds of cattle, but instead of slathering A1 on a nice porterhouse, they dip pieces into this garlic, oregano, and olive oil based sauce.  The name of the sauce is unknown, but I think the most logical answer is that it comes from the Basque word “tximitxurri” which roughly translates to “A mix of several things in no order”.  Whatever it means, I didn’t care in that moment as I combined it all into one hearty and flavorful burger.  The bun was sturdy and fresh with a light coating of flour on the bottom that made it easier to grip even though it was never going to fall apart in the first place.  The bold and notable goat cheese melted on the medium well beef and combined very well with the garlic and herbal notes from the chimichurri’s olive oil.  I was greatly satisfied with my meal, and Janice was as well.

So if you’re looking for a solid choice to eat some comfort bar food or try a new twist on an old favorite, check out Firehouse Grill in Evanston!
Firehouse Grill on UrbanspoonS

Bearing the Grunt of Good Food

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Welcome to the 220th post on Mastication Monologues!  It has been quite a trip, but what better way to celebrate another small milestone than going to the first ever Lettuce Entertain You restaurant:  R.J. Grunts.  It still is as funky as it was back in the 1970s, and the food is as unpretentious as their self-deprecating menu humor.

This food adventure was prefaced by an enchanting time at the zoo with my girlfriend Janice at the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Adult Night.  After enjoying seeing the animals chilling at night in their habitats sans shrieking urchins scurrying about, we stumbled upon the mythical establishment.  IMG_4093We walked in on a Saturday night, and it was packed.  However, we were able to get a table for two right away.  We walked past happy, chatting diners along with an epic salad bar that seemed to have every condiment under the sun along with some interesting sides like various neon colored Jellos. IMG_4107 When we sat down, I surveyed the walls that were coated with pictures of random people who I never really found out who they were.  However, the menu was a work of art, and it was gigantic as shown by my semi-hidden boo. IMG_4094

Hide and Seek at our own table

Hide and Seek at our own table

Not only was it hulking in terms of size, but also food and drink options.  One of the most interesting items on the menu was the temperature soup.  What it consists of is the soup of the day that costs the same temperature based on what it says on the lakeside thermometer, i.e. if it’s 32 degrees, you pay $0.32 for your soup.  It can be added to your entree with the following three conditions:  1.  The salad bar doesn’t come with it, 2.  They won’t pay you if it’s -0 F, and 3.  It’s only valid with purchase of an entree.  While it was intriguing, I was much hungrier and looking for something more substantial.  Thus, I came to the burger part of the menu.  After looking it over, I decided to get the Yowza Burger (a common phrase used as an exclamation of excitement during the 70s like in Happy Days) for $12.95 and a hand-dipped creamy caramel shake ($6).  Janice got the Grunt Burger ($11.95) but no shake.  They came out after a bit, and they didn’t look spectacular.IMG_4111  However, I made the mistake of judging a burger by its bun. It was stacked with enough spicy things to make someone yell its name, but with someone who has dead tastebuds after years of heat challenges, it wouldn’t trouble many chiliheads.IMG_4112  Normal people, maybe.  I really liked the pepper jack, spicy ketchup, and peppercorns that were coating the burger.  It was different kinds of spice that activated different parts of the palate along with the crunch from the smoked bacon and occasional peppercorn lodged in the juicy patty.  I personally preferred my girlfriend’s Grunt burger because there were a ton of fried onion strings and crumbly/melted blue cheese chunks on the Angus patty.  IMG_4125Two great, strong flavors and differing textures that would make me happy but sorely needing a breath mint by the end of the meal.  Then there were the fries that were more like potato chips but not really.  I really enjoyed them since they were unique, exquisitely fried, and were just the right amount of crispy leaning more toward the softer end of things.  The piece de resistance was the  milkshake I had there.IMG_4105  I’ve had my fair share of ice cream treats, both good and disgusting, but this was one of my top three milk shakes I’ve ever tried.  The butterfat of the ice cream mixing with the rich milk and sweet caramel created a cool ambrosia that washed over my palate with wave upon wave of dulcet notes that made me happy until there was none left.  I had no shame when taking it down in public like a sweet fiend.  It was a creative, classic all American meal for a fun date night.

Short hair, don't care

Short hair, don’t care

So if you’re looking for a restaurant with plenty of history, character, innovative dishes, and moderate prices, look no further than the blast from the past, R.J. Grunts.  Dy-no-mite!!

R.J. Grunts on Urbanspoon

The Saint Baby Back Rib Day Massacre

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Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.

W. C. Fields
Chicago is truly a world-class city with amazing attractions and a truly intriguing history.  Whether that be the foundation of the city by a black pioneer to the Great Fire to the legacy that is Ditka and Da Bulls/Michael Jordan, but nothing is more iconic than the era of Prohibition.  While New York may have been known as a rough and tumble city up until recently, Chicago has been filled with gangsters, murders, and crooked politicians from day one until now.  They don’t call it Chiraq (Chicago + Iraq) for nothing.Gun-Control-Chicago  While the small gang block squabbles today have been tearing apart communities on the West and South sides, Al Capone infamously instilled a wave of fear throughout the city utilizing mental and physical intimidation.  It speaks volumes about the man’s influence given that there are still tours highlighting his hangouts, Valentine’s Day Massacre site, and his numerous speakeasies.  One such former speakeasy still exists in Chicago in the form of Twin Anchors.  While the actual building dates back from 1881 and the restaurant from 1932, the food and brews served there are timeless.
The facade of the building is extremely inconspicuous, but surprisingly it was the favorite hangout for Frank Sinatra and even was used in the Dark Knight as a scene with Two Face (you can see the same anchors in the windows).

IMG_3514IMG_3515  While Janice and I didn’t expect to see Ol’ Blue Eyes or Harvey Dent meting out his unique form of justice during our visit, the bar was hopping just like during the “dry” era of Prohibition.IMG_3517  There was a twenty minute wait, but suddenly we got a table right at the entrance in the dining room after a two minute wait.IMG_3518 It didn’t look like the interior had changed since the 1940s or 1950s, and it really was a no-nonsense sort of place with their “Positively…no dancing!” sign above the entrance. IMG_3521 The modern touches were mainly all of the signs from modern tv programs that have interacted with this wonderful eatery including the fitting period series Boardwalk Empire.  While I wasn’t sure what to order since I had never been there, and I was feeling the effects of some day drinking, Janice helped me out.  We split a full rack of their famous ribs ($23 or $16.50 for half) and picked our complimentary sides:  onion rings for me and baked beans for Janice.  To drink, I got an Obsidian Stout.  If you’re not into ribs, they do have other forms of meat like steaks, shrimp, chicken or sandwiches or salads if you’re taking it easy on the old cholesterol.  Before the ribs arrived, we got a basket of crackers, small packages of sesame breadsticks, and big slices of black rye bread with butter on the side.  It was like being at one of the South side family restaurants but on the North side.  I half expected a free cup of soup to come along with the meal, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.  The rye bread was great though since it was fresh, hearty, and earthy with plenty of caraway seeds.  My beer came out first, and it wasn’t anything that grabbed my attention.IMG_3523  It was a solid, chocolate and coffee tinged porter that also had a hoppy bite that proved to be the ideal partner for the culinary experience I was about to undergo.

Civilized

Civilized

Eventually the ribs came out, and they didn’t look like anything new or special. IMG_3524 However, Janice informed me that they were slathered in their Prohibition sauce which was to die for.  I asked her if it was because like Prohibition it was spicy and illegal, and my prediction was correct.  Apparently, it is a smoky sauce infused with cracked black pepper, brown sugar, and a hint of the dastardly hot ghost pepper.  I have tangled with the ghost pepper before in a challenge and won, and it didn’t put a damper on this dinner either.  I have to say that these were, sauce-stained hands down, the best ribs I’ve ever eaten.  Not only was there plenty of meat on every rib, but it literally fell off the bone when I gently picked each piece up.  The sauce to meat ratio was ideal since each piece was at least 90 percent coated with a thin layer of the sweet, smoky, and spicy marinade.  I could swim in it though since it was that lip-smacking good.  Lord, there was a minimal amount of fat on these ribs, and my plate looked like the remnants a summer feast at Hannibal Lecter’s house.

Savage

Savage


 IMG_3529My face and hands looked the part by the time I was done as well.  Janice said she never saw someone eat ribs so fast as well.  The onion rings were scrumptious, but I was simply in awe still from the ribs.  I tried some of Janice’s baked beans too which had pieces of shredded pork in it.  IMG_3527It was a great twist on a classic bbq side.  I could only get one forkful in since I was ready to keel over.  To say I was merely satisfied with the meal, would have done the chef a disservice.

Long story short, if you enjoy history, bars with character, and/or food that is out of this world, sail off to Twin Anchors!

Twin Anchors on Urbanspoon

Just What the Doc Ordered

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Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  If this is your first time coming to my food blog, you are in for a treat today, and if it isn’t, then you will know I will be bringing you a fair and accurate assessment of a local eatery.  Today is part three in my Florida travel chronicle which will entail the popular, but controversial, Doc’s All American located at 10 N Swinton AveDelray Beach 33444, Florida.IMG_3942

I woke up to another lovely day as the Sunshine State was living up to its name.  The main plan was to meet up with some family friends and see Lion Country Safari.  After seeing plenty of African and Asian creatures sunning themselves in the southern heat and finally feeding a giraffe, we decided to grab lunch at Doc’s All American. IMG_3944 It’s a relatively simple establishment that is created to evoke a simpler time in America’s history when gas was reasonably priced, cars were still made out of metal, and childhood obesity was virtually unheard of.  Although the prices weren’t that low, they focused mainly on American favorites like hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, and shakes.  I got a foot long hot dog,  a side of onion rings, and a salted caramel shake.  Now, if you remember from the first paragraph, I mentioned that there is a bit of controversy surrounding Doc’s.  I did some research of what other diners thought of the restaurant, and they mentioned terrible service, low quality food, and a backward’s cash only policy.  While I did find the cash-only policy to be a bit of a relic in a now credit driven society, they did have an ATM on the premises to help patrons.  As for the other aspects people have complained about, I did not experience either aside from a possibly slow delivery of my family’s beverages.  There was only outdoor seating on the wrap-around patio which made me wonder what they did during Florida’s seemingly daily rainstorms?IMG_2855  Anyway, my hotdog and onion rings came out with my salted caramel shake soon thereafter, and it all looked great.

No Viagara needed.

No Viagra needed.

The only downside was having to apply my own mustard and relish to the tube steak that seemed like it would fit in more in one of Ron Jeremy’s flicks.  After a minute or two, I gave it a proper Chicago treatment with a spritz of mustard, a coating of relish, and a couple sprigs of white onion.IMG_2858  No ketchup for me since I’m not a heathen.  From the first bite to the last, I was pleased with the charred dog that was different from the boiled links I’m used to back in Chicago.  As for the onion rings, they were expertly made complete with a light and smooth exterior that was crunchy and sans bread crumbs that other onion ring recipes utilize.  I also liked that the onions were securely fastened within their golden shelters, and only slipped out on occasion as I munched through each one.  The salted caramel shake was average as they mainly added a hint of caramel flavoring to a vanilla shake, but the salt element was certainly unique as I found they filled the bottom of the cup with peanuts.  Definitely never had a shake as nuts as this one.

I don’t know if lunchtime is the ideal time to go to Doc’s, but I would recommend it as we did not experience any of the terrible happenings that people have described on the various online review sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon, etc.  While I’m sure one could find cheaper hot dogs and burgers elsewhere,  I’d still recommend trying Doc’s All American.  It is an experience to try a local institution that has been open and serving the same quality fare since 1951.IMG_2860
Doc's All American Classic Burgers & Shakes 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

Meat and Greet

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Hello everyone once again to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be talking about a few different types of food that I tried over the weekend.  The first was samgyeopsal which is part of the litany of things that Koreans love to barbecue.  They’re basically large strips of bacon minus the seasonings, but they taste so delicious no matter what.  While the bacon was sizzling on the grill, we had plenty of different types of banchan or side dishes to try.  I passed on the macaroni salad, but  I did enjoy the fresh tofu jjigae or tofu soup.  We also threw a couple cloves of garlic on the grill to give the bacon a bit more of a savory flavor.  After about ten minutes, we had our pieces of bacon cut up with the scissors they give you when you sit down.  You can take each piece and put some of the onion vinegar sauce on it or perhaps some of the red chili sauce depending on if you want it spicy or not.  Then you put it in a pepper leaf or a lettuce leaf and enjoy your delicious wrap.  They also gave us pieces of what we assumed were mushrooms to also grill since they had an almost meaty aftertaste mixed with earthy overtones when consumed.IMG_1290

Going from one type of meat to another, the following night I met up with friends in Gangnam to try Chinese lamb skewers at Gayang located at 강남구 역삼 1동 817-21 .IMG_1294  It was a very anonymous place that really didn’t have a line out the door like some of the other bbq places, but this grilling dinner was a bit different.  Instead of just doing the usual Fred Flintstone method of grilling with slapping big pieces of meat on  hot metal, we were doing more of a marshmallow method of grilling.  We got four total portions of skewers since we were quite hungry, but it’s not the cheapest meal out there at 10,000 won per serving.  However, you get roughly ten skewers, and the experience was worth it.  The lamb grilled up nicely with very little fat, and it came with a dry chili based rub that had clear cumin elements with a little garlic. The banchan was pretty typical, but I did enjoy the boiled peanuts and the sweet onions.  If you’re looking for something a bit different from Korean bbq, check out the Chinese lamb place in Gangnam.

The final part of this food trilogy entry deals with a spur of the moment food encounter.  After going to a couple bars in Gangnam, my friend Steph and I decided to try some street food at one of the stalls in the alley.  They were doing good business, so we just picked a mix of different fried foods.IMG_1304 (800x600)  We ended up having deep fried kimbap (rice rolls), deep fried plantains, and fried meat dumplings.  The kimbap were ok with small glass noodles, but the meat dumplings were decent since the meat had a great seasoning blend that made it taste like shepherd’s pie a little bit.  However, the flat pancake plantains were the best since they tasted like sweet potatoes but were almost too sweet.  We still aren’t sure what they were, but we were happy to experience an authentic part of Korean culture.

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