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This Foodie Just Keeps Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along

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Welcome to a retro Masticastion Monologues?  What’s that you say, milkshakes?  Retro?  Well, today’s post focuses on the Red Robin Gourmet Burger chain that is throughout America and known by its signature jingle.  It is one of many burger joints that try to evoke the spirit of 1950s diners that rocked around the clock to strains of Elvis on the jukebox.  While the times have changed since then, and the music has become more interesting (not always better), a good burger with a side of fries will never go out of style.

I went with Janice to the location closest by me at the Oakbrook Center shopping mall.  It was a new addition to the upper level by the Nordstrom’s, but it is quite popular with families and the teenage pods that roam from shop to shop.  However, it is also a fun place to go if you want to grab a cold one with your friends. 46716679_IDs7asvk6P2fAMb1kCe5RF3goIR9CPkJrdDMEyGl8Cc We were there to get a bite to eat before seeing a movie nearby, and it was a pleasant experience.  I looked over the menu and after seeing all of the burgers, chicken sandwiches, and side salads the place had to offer, I went for the Burning Love burger ($10.49).  Janice got the Royal Red Robin burger ($10.79).  However, I didn’t want to just get a burger.  I saw that you could “style” your burger in three ways:  Pig Out with extra bacon (+$1.50), Cantina Jack with mild green chiles (+$1.00), or Fiery Ghost with a ghost pepper sauce, fresh jalapeno pepper slices, and fried ones (+$1.00).  Needless to say, if you’ve read my blog, I love everything spicy.  Whether it’s a deadly pork cutlet in Korea or gastro-intestinal shredding poppers in Portland, Oregon, I can’t say no to the tongue burning experience.  Eventually they came out, and Janice’s burger looked delicious. IMG_4562 It was like a combo of breakfast and dinner where the bacon and eggs got down with the beef patty to make an extremely rich but runny burger.  It was a flavorful meal that whetted my appetite to finally tuck into my devilish basket.IMG_4561  I had tried ghost peppers before, and it was a tough but manageable experience.  However, I was pretty disappointed with my burger, spice-wise.  I was expecting to have my taste buds blown off my tongue, but the red ghost pepper sauce didn’t even make it beyond a weak habanero.  I enjoyed the fresh and fried jalapeno pieces more since they provided a crunch and buttery finish to the salsa, chipotle aioli, and jalapeno cornmeal kaiser bun. IMG_4563 Still, it was a finger licking good burger, but if you’re a real spicehead, you won’t blink with the spice levels.  Janice tried some of the sauce on the tip of her finger, and she couldn’t handle it.  So, I think my tastebuds might be dead or perhaps zombies since I can still taste other flavors.  As for the fries, they were of the steak cut variety, probably tied for favorite along with waffle.  They were on average larger and softer than the smaller crispier ones you might find at McDonalds or Burger King, but they had the perfect ratio of fry to salt flavor.  Plus, at Red Robin they’re bottomless!  So if you feel like carbo-loading, hit up Olive Garden and Red Robin.  You’ll definitely get your money’s worth.  By the end of the meal, I couldn’t even finish all of my fries because it was all so filling and scrumptious.

So if you want to visit a new burger chain that isn’t afraid to be creative with their burgers and get a lot of food for a reasonable price, check out Red Robin! Yuuummmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers on Urbanspoon

Death Metal Delight

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Art can be manifested in various mediums.  While paintings and sculptures can be found all over the world from the beginning of humanity, music has a special place in the collective soul of mankind.  It can reflect a gamut of emotions, cultures, and innovations in technology (or hatred of said technology).  An eatery in Chicago called Kuma’s Corner  (Kuma means “bear” in Japanese) manages to fuse metal music culture with a menu focused exclusively on creatively named and constructed burgers.  What could be better than that?

Now, I’m not a huge fan of death metal or really heavy rock music outside of listening to it on my workout mix, so I was curious to see why so many people kept on raving about their burgers even though they seemed like the last people to be headbanging or howling along with the gutteral lead singers.  The exterior looked pleasant enough, but as soon as I walked in, I was greeted with a wall of people and fierce chords being pumped out of the speakers overhead.IMG_3730  I was surprised though since I heard from friends that the music was turned up to 11, but I didn’t find that to be the case.IMG_3718IMG_3719  Since I was dining alone, I was immediately seated at the bar, but I’d recommend bracing yourself for a wait if you’re going there around lunchtime.  The bartender along with every other employee there was friendly and covered in tattoos.  Not only did the artwork decorate my server’s arms, but I even found her probable inspiration all over the bathroom walls as every square inch was covered with tattoo samples.IMG_3728IMG_3729  After sitting down and pouring over the burger options, I noticed that they had very creative names paying tribute to different rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Megadeath, Slayer, and Plague Bringer to name a few.  Not only were the names intimidating, so were the options since they all looked so delicious.  After bringing it down to two choices in my head, the Plague Bringer and the Goatsnake, I asked my bartender which she’d recommend out of all of them.  Surprisingly, she said those two were her favorite.  She then gave me time to think about it, and even said she’d surprise me if I couldn’t make up my mind.  After some deliberation, I told her I’d take the Goatsnake ($10) along with a complimentary side of handcut fries, but I could have also picked chips or a salad instead of the fries.  If you’re not feeling like a burger, they do have appetizers, salads, and sandwiches.  After waiting for some time and slobbering on myself while checking out other peoples’ burgers, my burger was placed in front of me.  I didn’t know where to start. IMG_3721 It was overflowing my plate, and the guy next to me even asked me what I got since it looked so much more intense compared to his burger.  Jackpot!  This creation named after the doom metal group from California caught my eye because of its creative ingredients.IMG_3722  While there was a pile of fried red onion strings on top, I’ve had that on other burgers I’ve destroyed at other restaurants.  The holy trinity of ingredients that piqued my interest was the herbed goat cheese, poblano and corn relish, and Cholula lemon vinaigrette.  I could see the first two elements, and the third one could only be experienced.  I put my top bun on and was ready to rock my socks off. IMG_3724 Wow!  From the first bite, I knew I was dealing with a unique burger.    The patty was hearty and juicy but was borderline greasy.  It didn’t take away from the bold flavors that were more radical than a face-melting guitar solo.  The goat cheese was plentiful and provided a strong flavor background for the rest of the star ingredients like Lars Ulrich’s drumming for Metallica.  As for the corn and poblano pepper relish, it supplied a counterbalance of texture and a hint of spice that I enjoyed.  Finally, there was the most outrageous yet memorable part of the burger which was the Cholula lemon vinaigrette.  With every bite, my palate was awash with a spicy citrus punch that went especially well with the goat cheese that almost made it seem like they did an homage to Chicago’s saganaki legacy unintentionally.  Once I demolished my main dish, I turned my attention to the fries.  They were on the less crispy side which I perfer and weren’t too salty.  I wasn’t sure, but I believe the ketchup had a bit of spice in it.  Either way, these fries couldn’t measure up to the burger magnum opus I experienced moments before.  The bartender finally saw the feeding frenzy was over, and offered me a round of applause with how thoroughly I cleaned my plate.  I applaud you too, Kuma’s Corner, for your passion for creating insanely delicious burgers.

So if you’re tired of the same old burger joints that use the same old ingredients in the same old bar and grill environment, bear crawl on over to Kuma’s Corner and party on!

Kuma's Corner on Urbanspoon

Semi-Sad Strudel Time

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Buon giorno a tutto il mondo!  Today were going Italian on Mastication Monologues, so jump on your Vespa  and put on your Gucci shades as we hit the road to see one of the peninsula’s most famous inventions with a twist:  pizza.  While pizza may take many different forms depending on where you are in Italy or elsewhere in the world, Chicago is one of the international hubs for world-famous pizza.  What sets Chicago apart from its classier Italian cousins or pushier brothers out in New York?  Heft.  If a slice of NYC pie is a thin Kate Moss, then Chicago deep-dish is a full bodied Christina Hendricks.  While I like both, I’m naturally biased towards my hometown style.  However, Pompei serves another type of pizza that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world, so I’d like to tell you a bit about it.

Pompei is a Chicago institution that started in 1909 on Taylor Street in Little Italy in Chicago.  While the name is the same as the famous lava encased village in Italy, it actually is derived from the nearby Our Lady of Pompeii Catholic Church. Pompeii_3723 rosary6-pompeii This reflects the local flavor of the neighborhood along with the items you can find on the menu.  Back in 1909, the founder, Luigi Davino, only made bread and cheese pizza, but now they have everything from salads, sandwiches, pasta, various desserts, and of course, the pizza!  While I still consider the original location on Taylor Street the best, this post involves the new branch in Westmont that moved from Oakbrook. westmont_splash Note:  since they’re run by good Italian boys, Pompei is closed on Sunday.  We learned that the hard way by rolling up to a desolate parking lot and subsequently were turned away.  Just a quick reminder if you’re really jonesing for some great Italian food on a Sunday.  Anyway, so upon walking into the Westmont Pompei, it was a bit different from the Chicago branch since we had to grab a lunch tray and work our way down the line of food like a cafeteria. IMG_3186 The Chicago Pompei does it in a similar fashion, but they keep all of it on their side of production.  Another trend that I noticed right away was the undercurrent of sarcasm and semi-threatening sales strategies that the staff utilized.  At the salad station, the employee seemed exasperated that we dared not to have a custom salad made for our meal.  My mom and I went down to the good stuff, the pizza.  Based on the time we went to eat, 5 pm, it was a bit disconcerting with the selection of pies they had.  My mom was looking at the hand rolled pizza that is still thick compared to NYC slices, but they all seemed to be the dregs of the lunch hour in terms of quality.  My mom ended up picking a semi-anemic slice of spinach pizza and slid on down the line.  As for me, I got the usual, the strudel pizza ($5.95).  While the word “strudel” is normally associated with lederhosen-clad Germans enjoying the sweet, European take on pie, Pompei manages to integrate both the general structure of the Teutonic dessert with the Mediterranean ingredients.  I wanted my favorite strudel flavor, “The Works”, but they didn’t have any out.  So I settled for the Beef Angelo, and I went to the cashier.  While waiting there, the employee behind soup and dessert hassled us in a condescending manner  about our pizza choices and why weren’t we getting more food.  We played it off like nothing happened and settled down to enjoy our eats.  My strudel looked fantastic but the taste didn’t match due to the quality of the ingredients. IMG_3184 While the crust was crusty yet chewy, it was soggy on the bottom which is never a good attribute for pizza to have.  As for the interior, the Beef Angelo normally is filled with slices of juicy beef, but what I found was more like the leftover, ground up meatballs.IMG_3185  The marinara and cheese were plentiful in this strudel which made up for the meat…just barely.  By the end of dinner, I was filled and semi-satisfied.  Yet I couldn’t help but reflect on the quality of service and food in comparison to the original Chicago location or when the same restaurant was in Oakbrook.  Even though not everyone goes to eat dinner at 5 pm, that doesn’t mean you should put out the minimal amount of low quality product to save resources.  Plus, the owner should whip the staff into shape as 90 percent of them were standing around talking while one guy did all of the work.  This type of terrible teamwork extended to all facets of the restaurant and put a damper on our dining experience.

So if you want to try a unique type of pizza in an original Chicago institution, try Pompeii, but I’d recommend the Chicago location over the obnoxious Westmont branch.

Pompei Bakery on Urbanspoon

Nuevo Sabor That’s No Chore

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Well, here we go again.  Another weekend, another round of posts.  Today’s edition of Mastication Monologues comes off another long week and weekend of work mixed with plenty of play.  While I have been around the block when it comes to Mexican eateries, I haven’t managed to adequately compile all of them on my food blog.  However, this past weekend provided me with a perfect opportunity to make up for lost time.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a Chicago comida mexicana institution that resides in the once Bohemian, now Latino (predominantly Mexican), and perhaps in the future solely hipster neighborhood of Pilsen.  I’m talking about Nuevo Leon located at 1515 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608.341699_iPad-Large_20120905111026.jpg.resize.768x432

After our trip to a fantastic punch class at Punch House, we were absolutely starving, and what better way to celebrate making our potent libation than enjoying some hearty Mexican cuisine?  While I had been to Nuevo Leon before and knew of its delectable selection of Mexican platters, Josah and Janice were unaware of the treasures within.  They were soon put wise.  Even at 5 pm on a Saturday, there was a line streaming out the door that we had to wait in.  Our wait was only made more interesting as I was carrying our large glass container of punch which led the diners to think that I was carrying around a special bowl of motor oil or perhaps the liquefied remains of  a deceased relative.10313748_10101613763422131_1817890989632858173_n  Either way, it was a good conversation piece.  Also while waiting, I saw the signs that alerted customers to their CASH ONLY policy.  If you’re plum out of moolah, they have an ATM inside the establishment.  I also noticed that our punch would be put to good use due to Nuevo Leon’s BYOB policy.  The only restrictions they have is that patrons cannot bring in coolers, and each patron can only drink the equivalent of three beers.  Eventually we reached the front of the line and were ushered to a table in the back.  Every seat in the house was packed as we dodged servers buzzing about like bees in a constantly humming hive.  Upon sitting down, we were supplied with a basket of tortilla chips, two types of tomato based salsa, and a bowl of pickled carrot and jalapeno pepper pieces.  While the condiments were fresh and filled with plenty of south-of-the-border flavor, the chips had a slightly funky fishy flavor which I think was due to the type of oil they used in the deep fryer.  They didn’t bother me too much, but I still don’t believe the Mexican equivalent of the bread basket should taste like the catch of the day.

Our waitress greeted us, and I took over from there when it came to communicating with her.  It didn’t seem like her English was the best when she tried to speak with Josah, so this might be frustrating for patrons who might not be able to speak Spanish.  I started by asking for a carafe of ice, glasses, and straws to imbibe our punch with our entrees.  Then I put in my order for the especial cazuela ($10.50) or literally “special cooking pot” in English.  There was a funny cultural exchange as well while ordering.  Josah asked for a chimichanga, and the waitress seemed quite confused.  I then proceeded to ask in Spanish, “Se preparan chimichangas aqui?” (Do they make chimichangas here?).  The waitress then said, “Que es una chimichanga?” (What is a chimichanga?) I described it to her as “un burrito frito” (a fried burrito), but she just shrugged and said there are only burritos.    Clearly you are not going to find certain super-Amurikanized plates you have come to love at your local Chili’s or Chipotle.  However, she was quite curious about our punch we made, so I offered her a glass.  Eventually, our meals came out, and I was a bit taken aback by the humble appearance of my dish. IMG_3078 A cazuela is a stew-like meal that in this case consisted of grilled pieces of ribeye steak, onions, poblano peppers, and panela cheese.  I was anticipating more steak and vegetables, but I quickly found out that the majority of the goodness was lurking under the peppery red broth.  When combined in a tortilla with the creamy refried beans and fluffy rice on the side, it was fantastic.  The ribeye was high quality with no fat to be seen, and the vegetables were soft but not mushy.  The cheese was an interesting addition as well since it provided a slightly salty element to a mainly savory dish.  All of these elements’ flavors really popped due to the jalapeno level spice of the aforementioned broth.  I was one stuffed and satisfied diner by the end of the meal.

So if you’re looking for a restaurant that is one of the most popular representatives of Mexican cuisine in Chicago without the frills of Frontera Grill or the prices of Topolobampo, then check out Nuevo Leon!

Nuevo Leon on Urbanspoon

Poppin’ Molly, I’m Sweatin’! (Portland, Finale)

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Well, I’ve finally managed to come to the end of my sojourn through the wilds of Portland’s culinary scene, and this final post is a fitting finale to the adventure.  Fitting in the sense that I manage to go out in a blaze of glory instead of just fading away a la Kurt Cobain minus the whole dubious suicide and artistic angst.  Instead, I grapple with another spicy food challenge at local eatery Salvador Molly’s.  It’s a bit outside of the city center, and you have to take a bus out to the hill country to get there.  However, it’s a unique dining experience that you can’t get anywhere else in Portland.

Now, I’ve survived my fair share of uber-spicy food that would make any normal human’s taste buds melt immediately.  The medium of fiery madness has ranged from soup, chicken wings, and even a deep fried pork cutlet, but Salvador Molly’s Great Balls of Fire challenge managed to switch it up once more pushing me to my culinary, physical, and mental limit.  The exterior of the restaurant gives off a hippie/Caribbean vibe with its tropical plants and vibrant color schemes, and the interior is even more fascinating.IMG_3881IMG_3880  Buddhist prayer flags were streaming overhead while the walls were adorned with African folk art murals along with Mexican artisanal crafts. IMG_3882 Upon sitting down and scanning the menu, I could see that they had food from all corners of the globe including the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hawaii to name a few.  I was initially drawn to the Jamaican Roti wraps, but I decided to go for Pele’s Volcano sandwich ($9.50) since it had some interesting ingredients.  Along with this, I asked to get the Great Balls of Fire challenge (7 balls, $7.95).  The waitress was hesitant, and asked me if I wanted to just try one to make sure I knew I was getting into.  The only thing I knew was that they were made out of habenero peppers, and I could eat those no problem.  So once I agreed to it, she wrote it down on her paper pad like a death sentence for a doomed prisoner.  While I was waiting, I saw that on the wall next to my table there was a couple of pictures on the wall chronicling the brave souls who pitted their wits against the flame-infused orbs and survived.

The few, the proud, the spiceheads.

The few, the proud, the spiceheads.

In my mind, I could see my picture going up there as well by the end of my meal.  That’s half the battle with food challenges, envisioning yourself triumphing over the massive obstacle placed in front of you.  Eventually both came out, and the sandwich looked more intimidating than the food challenge.IMG_2693  I knew I was in real trouble when they made me sign the waver saying that I couldn’t sue them if needed a colostomy compliments of their tortuous habanero appetizer.IMG_2692  They also pointed out the warning sign next to my table that was in other parts of the restaurant as well.IMG_2691  Not too scary at all, but I had a plan.  I wouldn’t be rushing headfirst into the gates of hell without a trusty thick coating to my stomach which was what the Pele sandwich was for.  It different than what I was expecting because it was more like a toaster oven pizza than a traditional sandwich.   As for its name, Pele is the goddess of volcanoes in Hawaiian culture, and I was expecting real fireworks to be happening on my palate.  Instead, it was more like a poorly made sparkler in the middle of a rainstorm.  Lots of fizzle and no sizzle.  A majority of the mediocrity derived from the toasted but cold and soggy, compliments of the toppings, bread.  The pork was average, but the only redeeming factor was the tamarindo bbq sauce that was tangy and sweet with a slightly herbal aftertaste compliments of the tamarind infusion in the sauce.  I was more partial to the hurricane garlic fries that took my taste buds by storm with their crispy exteriors and garlicky interiors.

My eyes then turned to my rotund morsels that threatened my existence as onlookers at another table bade me good luck before I dug in.IMG_2694  They even took out their camera phones to take a few snapshots before I possibly spontaneously combusted mid-meal.IMG_2696  They then got their food but always kept one eye on me as I began the challenge.  I gnawed on the first one as I put my figurative toe in the lava pool to make sure it was just right.  Inside the first fritter, it seemed to be filled with pieces of habanero and cheesy batter, and the spice was coming in hot and heavy waves over my tongue.  It was manageable though as I quickly popped balls 2-6 into my mouth with gusto.  The other diners’ jaws fell on their tables as they couldn’t believe that I devoured the fireballs just as quickly as they came to my table.  However, I was starting to feel a rumbling in my tummy as my mouth was more or less numb, sweat covered my face, and my heart was racing.  The final morsel slid down my gullet while leaving deep, spicy, smarting claw marks on my palate. I mopped up the sweet mango salsa as I gallantly destroyed the Great Balls of Fire Challenge.  The waitress was impressed as she took my picture for the “Great Wall of Flame”, and I got to write a memorable quote on it for everyone to see when they walk into the restaurant. IMG_2699 Once the fanfare ended, I sat there digesting the weapon-grade fritters that were smoldering in my stomach.  I asked for a cup of milk to quell the firebomb that was spreading throughout my gastro-intestinal tract.  I left that restaurant to walk through a monsoon, but I was more troubled with the sensation that felt like someone was disemboweling me.  I could see why they made me sign the waiver because they could have been in real legal trouble with people with less fortitude than I.  I struggled with the pain these little hellions brought for the rest of the afternoon/evening, so I warn everyone that the Great Balls of Fire Challenge will burn you if you don’t have the stomach for it.

So if you want a slightly overpriced menu that really highlights the diversity of Portland’s population or try your hand at consuming edible fireballs, check out Salvador Molly’s!
Salvador Molly's on Urbanspoon

Goooooooood Afternoon, Vietnam! (Portland, Part 5)

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So today’s post is going to be short and savory like the meal I will be entailing.  While I decided to have one of my spooky baked treats from Voodoo Doughnuts for breakfast on Friday morning, I decided that lunch would take place at one of the many food cart villages that can be found throughout Portland.  The concierge told me when I checked in to check out Alberta Street’s food carts, but it was a bit too far out of the way for my liking.  So, I remembered that I passed by a large pod of carts when going down SW 5th Ave. to the Pioneer Square stop in the heart of downtown Portland.  Even though it was raining, it didn’t put a damper on my experience.

As I made my way down the block long and deep hamlet of food hawkers, there was so much affordable food diversity it made me want to fall to my knees and praise the sustenance gods.  After living in a monoculture for a year like Korea, you really appreciate the diversity of the USA. IMG_2655 However, Korea was represented with two carts that seemed to push both fusion and traditional Korean cuisine.IMG_2659IMG_2658  Along with noms from the Land of the Morning Calm, they had Indian, Mexican, Greek, Iraqi, Italian, Chinese, American, Thai, and Vietnamese eateries.IMG_2589 IMG_2588 The last option would end up being my lunch for the day as I finally chalked off a basic foodie necessity in the great book of “Food You Must Try”:  banh mi.  For those who are new to Vietnamese cuisine, a banh mi is essentially a Vietnamese sandwich, but it is much more than a sliced piece of bread stuffed with a plethora of mouth-watering ingredients.  It was born out of Vietnamese subjugation by the French during the Age of Colonialism.  When two very different cultures come in contact, you can be certain if anything will be exchanged, it will be different types of food and drink.  While the Vietnamese introduced the French to indigenous specialties like pho, the French brought their wizardry with baked goods to the people of Vietnam.  The ubiquitous French baguette quickly became integrated into the Vietnamese food landscape in the form of banh mi.  The locals took the baguette recipe, compliments of their European overlords, and tweaked it to have a slightly lighter consistency than the ones found back in La Patrie (France).  After that, the Vietnamese people filled these baguettes with Vietnamese ingredients to give birth to one of the most famous examples of fusion food before it became a buzzword coined by Mr. Puck.  I had never tried it before much to the dismay of some of my friends, so when I saw the very unassuming Vietnamese cart that didn’t even have a sign up, I knew I had to try it.IMG_2661  If they didn’t have to advertise, they must be good.  The head cook beckoned me over with a hello and a smile, and after looking over the large list of banh mi, spring rolls, and pho, I got the grilled pork banh mi ($3).  As soon as I finished my transaction, I turned around to see a crowd behind me, so perhaps I either beat the lunch rush or led the charge to try something new.  It eventually was handed to me, and it looked absolutely beautiful. IMG_2664 It tasted just as sublime as well.  First, I crunched my way through the crispy crust of the baguette to the chewy white interior which really did taste airier than a French baguette.  I then reached the promised land of juicy grilled pork, onions, verdant peppers, pickled carrots, and plenty of cilantro for an herbal punch right in the taste buds. All of this, combined with the sweet and spicy Sriracha sauce, left me greatly satisfied and ready to take on the rest of the day.  I highly recommend banh mi and checking out Portland’s food cart scene.

Hauntingly Delicious (Portland, Part 3)

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Boo!  Scared ya, didn’t I?  Today’s Mastication Monologues entry will be dealing with another Portland institution that I visited during my brief yet enjoyable stay there.  After a long day of learning about how to be a better teacher and help my students speak the Englishes more good, I knew I had to get out and see some of the city.  After looking over Wikitravel, I decided to get one of my favorite foods, pizza, at Old Town Pizza.  There are two different locations, one in the northwest part of the city and the other, the brewery, on the east side of the river.  However, reading further I found out the northwest location on Davis is supposedly haunted and a “must-do” for anyone who comes to Portland.  Ghosts and rave reviews?  I’m sold!

The actual story of the ghost revolves involves sex, slavery, and mystery.  Back in the late 1800s, some of the local timber barons built the Merchant Hotel where Old Town Pizza now stands.  Along with offering guests rooms and beds, the hotel also had the option for customers of the male persuasion to buy hookers to help them “enjoy” said rooms and beds.  One girl, Nina, was sold into this prostitution ring against her will.  Thankfully, a local missionary group was attempting to shut the hotel/bordello down, and Nina became an informant for them.  Unfortunately, she suffered a terrible fate for her attempt to shut down the house of ill repute as her corpse was found at the bottom of an elevator shaft which is now a booth in the restaurant.  Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see the ghost of this departed dearie…

Anyway, I managed to find the restaurant quite easily after a quick stroll through Portland’s underwhelming Chinatown. IMG_2594 I knew it was going to be a quirky place when it said on the door that they only were closed on Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. IMG_2602 I don’t know if that’s a joke or not, but I did enjoy the randomness.  Upon walking into the dark interior, it added to the ambiance of it being a haunted former hotel.  The staff was the Portland I was expecting complete with tattoos, ironic facial hair, and plenty of piercings, but that didn’t take away from their service.  They supplied me with a menu, and then I had to order at a booth that was attached to the kitchen.  Note:  the entrance was the former lobby of the Merchant Hotel, and the ordering booth was the reception desk.

Ordering booth

Ordering booth

I put in my order of a small original house pizza which contained signature pepperoni, salami, mushrooms, olives, bell peppers and topped with house made sausage. .  10 inches for $14.50 is a little expensive for my taste, but then again I was on vacation in a haunted restaurant.  They gave me a playing card with the two of diamonds on it as their way of keeping the orders straight, and it’s the only place in the world I’ve seen them do that.  I then moved on to the bar next to the ordering booth where my hipster bartender hooked me up with an Old Joe Chocolate Dark Ale that was brewed at the Old Town Brewery.IMG_2595  Once the pint glass of dark ambrosia was in my mitt, I had the task of finding my own seating.  To my dismay, my original seat I scoped out was already taken.  So after wandering through the packed restaurant I found an empty seat that would accommodate me and make Harry Potter feel at home since it was under the staircase going up to the second floor.  It was a lot more comfortable than it sounds since I had plenty of room for my head, and I would describe it more as a cozy experience.

Nina's corpse was found along the back wall of this room where I ate.

Nina’s corpse was found along the back wall of this room where I ate.

After about half an hour, my hand tossed pizza finally came out.  It looked wonderfully flush with toppings, but I had a hard time trying to find the cheese under them.IMG_2596  It was piping hot, so I sipped on my Old Joe while it cooled off.  I really liked the ale because it was a full bodied libation  that had whispers of chocolate/coffee in every drop.  Eventually my pie cooled off enough for me to actually touch it, but I found the bottom crust to be quite floppy which I really didn’t like since the toppings were cascading down my fingers as I attempted to transfer a slice to my smaller plate.IMG_2598  I was eating it with a fork and a knife for the wrong reason.  The only type of pizza I should be eating with a knife and a fork is deep dish because it’s piled so high with toppings, not thin crust because it doesn’t even have the constitution for basic ingredients.  Structural problems aside, I found the flavors and ingredients to be delightful.  The peppers stood out for me as they weren’t soggy and baked to have a crisp, clean snap that jived with the savory and spicy pepperoni.  It didn’t seem like they focused a lot on the cheese since it was buried under waves of ruby red marinara sauce that was slightly sweet but not overwhelmingly so.  Then at the end of each piece, there was a substantial crust that was on the chewier side and had a strange but pleasing cinnamon undertone.  By the time I finished the last piece, I was stuffed with some hauntingly good pizza.

I don’t think it can measure up to New York or Chicago pizza, but Old Town Pizza is a slightly pricy but quality dining experience with plenty of ambiance that won’t scare you away.
Old Town Pizza on Urbanspoon

Last K-Days (Part 3/Finale)- The Long and Delicious Road

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So this is my final post relating to my food adventures in Korea on Mastication Monologues.  It  with some snacks in the form of special kimbap. IMG_2131 What makes them so special?  These kimbap actually contained pieces of donkatsu (breaded pork cutlet), fried shrimp, and spicy peppers.  The restaurant we went to was quite popular in Ulsan, and they said they’d make the pepper kimbap extra spicy for me.  Now that’s service!IMG_2130  They were eventually ready to go as we hit the road back to Incheon.  After jamming out to some R. Kelly and Usher, we were hungry enough to stop and try the kimbap at one of the road stops along the way.

Pepper kimbap

Pepper kimbap

I decided to first try the “special” spicy pepper kimbap, and I don’t know what made them so special.  True, it did have small pieces of the fiery Korean peppers inside that are signature side dishes for meat meals, but it wasn’t any spicier than a jalapeno.  However, the donkatsu and fried shrimp kimbap were crazy delicious.  The crunchy, fried pieces of meat were fresh and were an exquisite contrast to the cold but plentiful vegetables.

Fried shrimp kimbap

Fried shrimp kimbap

Fried pork kimbap

Fried pork kimbap

Some of the slices fell apart while I was trying to grab it with my chopsticks unfortunately.

Getting down and dirty with the kimbap.

Getting down and dirty with the kimbap.

We quickly downed them and were back on the road.  After a bit more traveling, we found a larger rest stop that served potatoes with sugar and salt.IMG_2145  It was pretty straight forward as they were just chunks of steamed potatoes with a bottle of salt and a tin of sugar on the side for your own discretion.  We shook and scooped a generous helping of each on the cup and made our way to a table. IMG_2146 I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sugar and salt worked their own culinary yin and yang for me as I greatly savored this starchy treat. IMG_2147  However, my delight soon turned to disaster as I liberally dabbed a potato piece in a white pile of what I thought was sugar, but it was salt…I ran to the nearest water cooler and washed the taste of the Dead Sea out of my mouth.  I finished the last couple nuggets, and we survived the rest of our long sojourn northward.

My last full day in Korea finished with a gift of food from my friend Bora in the form of chocopies and moju.IMG_2171  The former were what their name suggests.  They consisted of two moist pieces of chocolate cake with white cream in the middle, and the whole dessert is covered in dark chocolate.  I’m kind of a chocoholic, so I loved them regardless of Bora saying that they tasted weird to her.  As for the moju, it was a type of rice wine filled with different ingredients like cinnamon, jujube, and ginger.  I could only liken it to a slightly different egg nog with a low alcohol content.  

I Believe I Can Fry

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Hey, everybody!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues which is my early Christmas present to the world.  Today I’ll be talking about a restaurant that Santa himself would love to dine at in place of downing his traditional fare of milk and cookies.  The place in question is called Gongdeok Town (공덕전타운) which is located at Gongdeok station going straight out exit 5.IMG_1426  Walk for about 8-9 minutes, and you’ll see it on your left amongst many narrow and claustrophobic alleyways including one that specializes in jokbal or pigs’ feet.  What should you be looking for?  Fried food as far as the eye can see.  You can smell it coming from a mile away that’s how intense this dining experience is.  So let’s begin at the start of the adventure.

First off, I would have never found this place had it not been for the luck of my friend, Steph, who found this fried food heaven on the internet.  Naturally, she shares my same sense of culinary curiosity, so we made plans to go there after a very long work week.  After going out exit five and going left, we were quite lost.  I looked to my right in the distance, and I could see an alley that seemed to be more bustling than the others, and we were greeted by incredulous looks by the restaurant owners at the fact that two waygookins (foreigners) were in this labyrinth of produce and meat.  After walking past a few eateries, I could see plates piled high with pork knuckle and no fried food.  They sent us further down the main road, and we finally saw the promised land.  They had a mind-boggling variety of tasty morsels to try that ranged in price from 500-5,000 W per piece.  IMG_1409IMG_1412

Mmm shrimp

Mmm shrimp

Lots of fried sweet potatoes, kimbap, and vegetables (left to right)

Lots of fried sweet potatoes, kimbap, and vegetables (left to right)

Some of the pajeon or Korean pancakes of egg or kimchi

Some of the pajeon or Korean pancakes of egg or kimchi

How it works is they hand you a wicker basket along with a set of tongs, and you just work your way down like a Supermarket Sweep of sorts.  Some of the labels were a bit hard to follow due to the imperfect translations and others were just very vague.

Skinflints for only 500W?  What a deal!

Skinflints for only 500W? What a deal!

Something looks a little fishy...

Something looks a little fishy…

 Nevertheless, we soldiered ahead and took a little bit everything.  Once we had our baskets filled to the brim, we brought them to the end of the line where a lady weighed our food and gave us a number.  We were then ushered inside where we found out that the smoking section is downstairs and the upper level is non-smoking and much larger and warmer. IMG_1421 Eventually they brought us our plate of food along with the bill.  For this mountain of food, it was 8,000 W between the two of us.IMG_1416 IMG_1417 Within our fried cornucopia that lied on our table just beckoning us with its golden-hued breading, we had more conventional foods like gooey Western style cheese sticks and crunchy chicken tenders that came with a complimentary drizzling of honey mustard.  Then there were pieces that were more Korean like the squid tentacles, kimchi pajeon, and various forms of sweet potato which I was semi-averse to since I prefer regular potatoes.  It still was a nice contrast to the savory, semi-greasy breading.  An interesting selection in the mix was the fried beef liver.  Texture-wise, it was quite firm, and it had a rich beefy flavor with plenty of body.  I greatly enjoyed the fried cucumbers, chilies, and pork stuffed perilla leaves as well.  Plus, they had plenty of different forms of taro root like the purple sesame seed coated balls you see on the first plate.  So for all you vegans out there, there is plenty of selection for you too aside from that last one.  There was also a mystery nugget that I chose because it looked like it had a strip of bacon in it, and I loves me some bacon.

My mystery nugget and I.

My mystery nugget and I.

 When I finally tried it, it was quite bizarre since it didn’t taste bacon or anything else for that matter.IMG_1420  It had a generic flavor of meatvegetablesbreading?? that left me generally confused along with the imposter  “bacon” strip that just tasted like burned matter.  It was quite the letdown.   Once we finished our first plate, I had to go back for a second helping since I still was hungry.

Round 2 (starting lower left corner and going clockwise):  scallop, taro ball, cheese sticks, potato bread, chilies, millet cakes.

Round 2 (starting lower left corner and going clockwise): scallop, oyster, taro ball, cheese sticks, potato bread, chilies, millet cakes.

 The scallop was quite delectable as it was rich and buttery like breading that enveloped it, and the oyster was quite good aside from a rubbery texture that might put off some diners.  The potato bread was a bit of a mystery to me at first since I was anticipating it to be stuffed most likely with pork, but it just ended up being a ball of fried dough.  Last and definitely the least favorite of all the food I tried there were the millet cakes.  They looked almost like mini-red velvet cakes minus the cream cheese frosting, but they were the opposite of the tantalizing dessert.  Not only did it taste quite musty, but it was filled with red bean paste!  Arrghhh, my Korean culinary arch-nemesis.  Foiled once again from having a completely fantastic dinner.  That minor bump aside, we ended up eating a ton of food for about 12,000 W each which is a bargain any way you slice it.

So if you’re looking for a warmer way to eat street food in the winter or perhaps need to layer up on some blubber for winter hibernation, go to Gongdeok town for some greasy good times.

Kicking Ass and Eating Wings

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Hello everyone, and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  My latest food adventure took me to, surprise surprise, Itaewon.  My two friends, Youngmi and Bora, heard that I liked my really spicy food challenges.  So, they threw down the gastronomic gauntlet and lead me to J.R. Pub in Itaewon.  It’s easy to get there.  Go to the Itaewon metro stop and go out exit 4.  Make a u-turn to your left and follow the sidewalk.  You’ll see a Taco Bell on the other side of the street on your left.  Continue down the sidewalk until you get to a large alleyway and make a right.  You’ll see on your right hand side a sign for the Wolfhound Pub, and right next to it is J.R. Pub.  Here’s the address: 128-4 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul South Korea.

If you have read my blog before, you know that I am quite the daredevil when it comes to hellishly spicy dishes (see what I did there).  If not, check out some of my posts (Hell Hath, Cuckoo, Devil With Wings ).  Youngmi and Bora were very surprised that I was actually going to try it, and even advised me to bring milk and eat something beforehand.  Nothing like coating the stomach before ingesting hellfire!  Looking over the menu, they had most bar food standards like burgers, various barbecue meals like pulled pork sandwiches, wings, and pizza.  I ordered the spiciest wings the ladies were telling me about, the Kick Ass wings (8,000 W), and they got the pulled pork sandwich and some chicken fingers.  While we were waiting they told me about the last time they ate it, and they rushed to the bar to get milk after just one tiny bite.  Definitely instilled a lot of confidence in me.  Eventually they came out, and I could smell the evil that lurked under the lava-red surface of the chicken.IMG_1201  If you want to see me going to town on these bad boys, check out the link at the end of the post.

So young and innocent

So young and innocent

 When I took my first bite, I was greeted with a jalapeno level of spice with a familiar smoky background that quickly ratcheted up to a mini-inferno in my mouth.  It felt like the Drop-Dead Donkatsu challenge all over again, but I was determined to take them down.  I was extremely focused on withstanding the heat.  With each mouthful I could feel the beads of sweat starting to form on my apparently reddening face, and the hiccoughs were coming on strong.  I’ve found that’s my death rattle when it comes to my spice tolerance.  In the video you can see them starting around the third wing along with my stunning forehead vein making a grand entrance.  By the fourth one, it felt like I replaced my Mentos with blazing charcoal briquettes.  The fresh maker?  More like the pain train coming into dead taste buds station.  The ranch sauce that came with the wings was zesty and managed to take a bit of the edge off the heat.

..and my face is on fire

..and my face is on fire

 I rested for a bit while trying the ladies’ pulled pork sandwich, fries, and chicken fingers.  The sandwich was good from what I could tell using the last bits of my functioning tongue, and the chicken fingers had more of a panko breadcrumb covering that made for a nice change of pace in terms of texture.  Bora even got in on the action and wanted to redeem herself by eating one of the wings.IMG_1205  She performed admirably even though she still ran to the bar for some ice.  Eventually, I made my way to the top of Mount Doom and banished these wings to the pit of my stomach.

Fighting!

Fighting! The guy behind me can’t believe I finished it.

 Bora said that they weren’t as spicy as the first time they tried them, so maybe I’ll have to come back for round two.

Good times

Nice face, Youngmi!

 

Either way, I had a great time at J.R. Pub with even better company.  They have quality food for reasonable prices along with an amiable atmosphere and good service.  Now if you want to see my eternal struggle with the wings, check out this link.

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