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San Diego (Day 2):  A Lambo, Gelato, and Rollin’ in Dough (Donut Bar, Nado Gelato, Village Pizza)

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Ah San Diego.  Home to the Chargers, the Padres, and their most famous mustaschioed ambassador, Ron Burgundy.  While we were visiting the city, we never got into antics like the Channel 4 news team like an anchorman street fight or having our beloved pet dog punted off the Coronado bridge, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a memorable time (I did get a new suit though for the wedding!).  47002647Our first day was fun, but Saturday was a non-stop rollercoaster that had plenty of thrills and a couple spills because we did eat and drink our fair share like any good tourists should.

If you didn’t read my first post, you can check it out here because our morning involved Janice’s friend and local fixer Amber who I introduced before.  Sadly, Ellie the schnauzer was not there to keep us company.  So, she brought us to a local breakfast favorite for both locals and tourists:  Doughnut Bar.  Now, coming from Chicago which has its fair share of fancy doughnut bakeries, I didn’t know what the big deal was about a company that specialized in creating mind-boggling sweets.  The line that stretched down the block that we soon found ourselves in spoke otherwise to my doubts.IMG_9625 IMG_9635  Amber recommended getting there the earlier the better as in like 8 am or 9 am if you want your choice of doughnuts because once the fried treats are gone, they close the entire store.   As we slowly shuffled like a horde of bleary eyed zombies toward our sugary host, something bright and shiny caught my eye.  It was just the Doughnut Bar owner’s new Lamborghini Aventor with a custom paint job. IMG_9629 I don’t know why other people weren’t as enthused as I was about this beauty of a machine just chilling on the side of the road.  It was a sign that it was going to be a great day on west coast.  Thankfully, the line moved quickly because we needed to get our sugar fix on before running off to get ready for the wedding ceremony!  I was having some second thoughts about rushing in and out after we set foot inside.  It was very modern and quirky with plenty of hilarious doughnut themed swag and artwork.IMG_9637 IMG_9640 IMG_9641  The true objets d’art were spread out in front of us like some type of heavenly bounty graced with every color and flavor of the rainbow.  According to Amber, they also switch around their menu and offer vegan options, so they know how to cater to people from all walks of life and keep them on their toes at the same time.  Janice and I didn’t know where to start because all of the doughnuts were calling our names.IMG_9643  There were chocolate ones,IMG_9644 ones made in homage to the local MLB All Star Game,IMG_9642 IMG_9646 cake batter,IMG_9647 and even one with a motherloving Pop Tart baked in the middle!IMG_9645 I didn’t want to look directly into its frosting for fear it would put the diabetic evil eye on me.  Plus, some honorable mentions among many.  IMG_9650 IMG_9649 IMG_9648We eventually made our choices, and they are not the cheapest doughnuts in the world at roughly 2-4 bucks a doughnut.  However, most of them are huge as you’ll see later in the post, and they are some of the most unique doughnuts you’ll ever taste.  Janice and I got a box of the Homer doughnut (mmmm sprinkles), a bacon infused cinnamon roll, a peanut butter cup doughnut, a Mexican hot chocolate doughnut, a Nutella doughnut, and a red velvet. IMG_9651 In addition to our to-go box, we got a French toast doughnut which was a doughnut fried and served up like regular French toast. IMG_9752 IMG_9754 This was an homage to the origin of doughnuts.  According to Wikipedia, some believe the word “doughnuts” came from the Dutch North American settlers who made oliekoek or “oil cake”, but the more compelling origin comes from a mid 19th century tale of an American boy punching holes in his fried dough because the centers were often raw.  This allowed for his dough to cook thoroughly and looked like the traditional doughnuts we eat and enjoy today.  However, the “nuts” part might have originally referenced the fried bits they poked out from the middle and have been referenced in writing as a uniquely American recipe as early as the early 1800s by none other than Sleepy Hollow author Washington Irving.  We enjoyed every bite of this fried piece of Americana as we chilled upstairs surrounded by plenty of interesting paintings and wall art.IMG_9757 IMG_9660 IMG_9659 IMG_9658 IMG_9656  The French toast doughnut also came with a side of butter, honey, and syrup.IMG_9755  I just went with the syrup, but it seemed almost like gilding the lily with how delicate and light the doughnut was.  It was an excellent investment and got us amped up for the very long day ahead of us.IMG_9756  Highly recommend this option if you have the chance to snag one from the hungry masses.  As we were leaving, there was still a plethora of people lining up outside, but I managed to sit in the Lambo which fulfilled one of my lifetime dreams. IMG_9664 Could this day get any better?  Oh yeah!  We got suited and booted and went also with our friend Kathy to the church on Coronado island.

Burt Macklin on the case!

Burt Macklin on the case!

 

Much better

Much better

We made it just in time, IMG_9760and it was a great service.  Personally, I think the flower girl and ring bearer stole the show until the bride’s grandparents came out.

Awwwww

Awwwww

They were so old but in such good shape and happy.  IMG_9763Definitely restored my faith in humanity.  The ceremony went off without a hitch,

The wedding party

The wedding party

and afterward I found myself once again face to face with another beautiful automobile.IMG_9680  This time around it was a classic Rolls Royce that the bride and groom were riding off in, IMG_9681but I wouldn’t have minded if they gave Janice and me a ride just around the block.  Instead, we wished them well and needed to find something to eat before the reception.  Walking around the beautiful isthmus of Coronado, we eventually found Fire and Fly Pizzeria.  It was bright and airy inside with outdoor seating in the front and rear of the establishment.  IMG_9683They seemed to specialize in brick oven fired, Neopolitan style pizzas.  They offer both premade and make your own pizza options in addition to a few sides.  We got an order of two broccoli and tomato pizzas and one chicken pesto pizza ($9 each).  I also got a local brewed Coronado beer ($6).  They were promptly cooked and served as we made our way to the back patio to enjoy the beautiful day and engaging food. IMG_9687IMG_9686 The pizza that Janice and I shared, the broccoli and tomato sans tomato, was good but too bland for my taste.  I’m a man of fiery foods, so the mix of mozzarella, ricotta, and herb garlic olive oil was a bit too safe for my palate.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a quality pizza, but I’d get a different pizza the next time around.  I preferred the chicken pesto pizza that our friend Kathy got because it was coated with a healthy, almost excessive top layer of arugula which gave way to pieces of chicken that were intermixed with mozzarella, pesto, and roasted peppers.  As for my California Amber, I realized that I wasn’t a fan from the first sip.  IMG_9685It had a slight pine/resin aftertaste which turned me off instantly, but it seemed like a trend in California to serve mainly lighter beers like lagers and IPAs.  What does a guy got to do to get a good stout/porter?  Still, Fire and Fly was an excellent place to grab a bite to eat before the wedding reception.  We finished our lunch and walked around the isthmus toward the Del Coronado hotel and decided to get some gelato at Nado Gelato.  IMG_9695It was a non-descript cafe that we strolled into and managed to beat the local crowd from the beach.IMG_9692 IMG_9693  A clear sign we made a good decision.  After looking over their numerous, mouth-watering flavors, IMG_9691 IMG_9689Janice and I got a small cup of the giandua (chocolate hazelnut) and salted caramel.  IMG_9690 IMG_9694It was reasonably priced and extremely high quality.  After learning so much from local Chicago ice cream shop owners in another post, we could tell from the rich, nutty flavor complimented by the salt in the caramel that we found the jewel in the crown of Coronado’s dessert scene.  Highly recommend this tiny spot if you’re looking for something sweet to cool you off.  Eventually, we reached the historical Hotel Del Coronado.  It was originally built in 1888 and didn’t look a year over 100.IMG_9765  Seriously though, it was a reception location that was without equal that I’ve been to in a wedding and hotels I’ve stayed in for my entire life.  We walked through the dark wood lobby under antique crystal chandeliers and past the wrought iron elevator up to the penthouse suite for pre-cocktail hour drinks.  Long story short, the views were terrible, and it was a mainly forgettable time.  If the written word doesn’t convey my sarcasm, I’ll let the view do the talking.

Life is hard

Life is hard

Before we made our way to the cocktail hour, we managed to witness a special part of Sabrina and Thompson’s wedding:  the Chinese tea ceremony.  I thought it was going to be a traditional Chinese ceremony to compliment the Catholic ceremony before, but it was more of a symbolic uniting of families through Sabrina and Thompson serving tea to the new members of their expanded familial network.IMG_9703  In return, they received lucky red envelopes containing many monies I assumed.  However, the real show stopper were the gifts for the bride and groom.  Thompson got a spiffy new watch, but Sabrina managed to wear half of Fort Knox’s gold in the form of two giant bracelets and a gold chest plate.  IMG_9768Once the ceremony concluded, we made our way through the hotel like some sort of entourage.  Jokingly, the girls said I looked like a secret service agent escorting some gold covered celebrity and her squad through to the afterparty.  Little did they know, I was trained by Burt Macklin from Parks and Recreation. 48164ac277ed50a145d31d4620cc4caf Luckily, we made it safely to to the very bright back lawn that was right next to the Pacific Ocean.  IMG_9704No big deal.  The setting was picturesque, the drinks were flowing, and the seagulls were out for burgers, mini-sliders to be exact.  They swooped down on us to steal food, but luckily we were looking stylish and freaked out in our sweet sunglasses party favors. IMG_9713 Their family dog, Bebe, however, was non-plussed looking so stylish in a bowtie. IMG_9705 Eventually, the clock struck the reception hour, and we were led to the back ballroom that was enormous and overlooking the same rear lawn where we were enjoying some classic wild animal attacks.  I won’t get bogged down in every minute detail of the reception in this post because it’s long enough.  In a nutshell, minus the odd band music, we made some new friends and got down with old ones even when the dancefloor was dead sometimes. IMG_9726 IMG_9717IMG_9720The food was par excellence (a dessert bar and a macaroni bar? yeah, that happened), and our one bartender we always went to made sure that everyone was having a great time.  By the time the band’s encore finished, Janice and I made our way past our fellow partygoers outside the hotel entrance who, like us, needed a comfortable bed.  However, our night didn’t end there.  Back at the Air BnB we tried some of the doughnuts from the first part of the post.  I loved the Homer doughnut because it was simple, iconic, and fitting for someone with a big appetite like me.  IMG_9771The Mexican hot chocolate one wasn’t that memorable even with the toasted marshmallows, but the Nutella doughnut was delectable as well as the red velvet one.  By that time, our friend Kathy had made it back as well, and we passed out after an incredibly long day with heads filled with memories and bellies stuffed with amazing eats.

Donut Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fire + Fly Artisan Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nado Gelato/Botega Italiana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Toronto (Final Day): Home Is Where the Heart (and ice cream) Is

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So, it has finally come to this.  The final installation in my Canadian food saga on Mastication Monologues (See 1, 2, and 3 here).  While the previous chapters had plenty of panache, today’s post will be going out on a very classy note.

Our day started on a very hot note as we made the trek across the city to the famed Casa Loma that was participating in Toronto’s food week a.k.a. Summerlicious. IMG_7065 What would be more summerlicious than fine dining in a castle?IMG_7066  The storied structure was originally built by Sir Henry Pellatt, a business magnate and loyal military servant to the Queen.  Aaron had told me before we visited that he built this mega-mansion for a woman who was supposed to come over to marry him but duped him.  Turns out that when we went there, we learned that he built it because he was extremely rich.  Go figure.  Beautiful as it was inside with plenty of crystal chandeliers, giant halls, and dark wood carpentry,IMG_7069IMG_7070 I missed a little bit of that modern air conditioning lovin’ as I proceeded to sweat my brains out.  Janice and I made our way out to the garden out back, and we were greeted with a wonderful fountain, lush foliage, and oodles of Asian tourists. IMG_7071 We had our wristbands on since we bought tickets ahead of time and on discount, so we were able to skip the long line into the Summerlicious fest like the ballers/shot-callers we naturally are.   We had a look over the food they had to offer while hunting for a seat, and it all looked great.  After a bit of time, Janice wrangled us a great table in the shade.  Aaron and Alyssa met up with us eventually due to a Google Maps error, but Janice and I were then quickly up and ready to run the buffet ragged.IMG_7087IMG_7088  We started off with some amazing Italian food.  First, there was the prosciutto (pro-shoot-oh or just pro-shoot if you’re a real paisan).  The word “prosciutto” comes from the Latin for “before” (pro) and “sucking out” (exsuctus) which then evolved into the modern Italian word “prosciugiare” meaning “to dry thoroughly”.  What does all this drying have to do for this heavenly meat?  Well, it’s basically a salted, dried, and aged leg of ham that is a pillar of Italian cuisine.  At the Summerlicious festival, the chef serving it was using an interesting slicer I’ve never seen before but sped up the cutting process for the slobbering diners lining up for the meat. IMG_7072 Janice and I picked up a rolled up slice each, and then next to the prosciutto was another Italian dish I had never tried before called panzanella.  It is a salad from the central Italian region of Tuscany, and it is not very in line with the Atkins diet.  The reason being is that this salad is based on bread; well, actually stale bread, but that’s neither here nor there.  It consists of the bread soaked in the vinaigrette along with tomatoes, onions, and zucchini.

Panzanella and prociutto

Panzanella and prociutto

It complimented the salty and savory meat with a light and slightly sour element to the opening plate of our meal.  We then moved on to the second plate of the day which was more diverse cuisine-wise.  First, I managed to snag a seasoned lamb kabob that was savory and spiced to perfection.IMG_7074  The smell alone coming off the grill was driving me crazy.  Then I followed that up with an Indian trio of butter chicken, jasmine basmati rice, and aloo gobi.  The butter chicken is a very mild dish in terms of Indian food, and it meshed with the rice to be a very filling part of the meal.  As for the aloo gobi, it is a traditional and simple Punjabi dish that consists of potatoes (aloo) and cauliflower (gobi). IMG_7075 It was different than traditional Indian dishes given that a plethora of them are typically swimming in a pool of sauce.  These dry veggies were aglow with a jaundiced yellow hue due to the tumeric and curry powder that was cooked into each piece.  It was ok, but not great.  The best part of round two was the mushroom cheesy risotto that was being served literally out of a giant wheel of Grana Padano (“grain” in Italian and the adjective for something from the Po River valley in northern Italy).IMG_7077  It was a creamy rice dish that had a Parmesan-esque sharpness in every forkful. IMG_7078 The final plate to the three ring circus of main courses ended with a vegetable slaw with lime dressing that was like something you could get in a P.F. Changs or slightly more upscale Chinese restaurant especially with the roasted, diced peanuts. IMG_7080 IMG_7090The better part of the third plate were the bison sliders with berry mostarda.  The bison tasted like a very lean beef with a bit more gamey flavor, but it was kind of drowned out by the berry mostarda that isn’t mustard but rather a traditional Italian condiment made of candied fruit and mustard flavored syrup.  IMG_7089We couldn’t put our finger on it if they were cherries or some kind of cranberry, but it strangely went well together as a savory and sweet kind of foodstuff.  Thankfully we didn’t eat breakfast because we had room for that sweet sweet dessert.  While they were serving three different types of gelato, I will save the ice cream for later in this post.  Instead, we chowed down on some white chocolate cannoli and a berry crumble.  Cannoli are well known as a quintessential Italian dessert, but in reality they trace their roots back to the Emirate of Sicily, i.e. when the Muslims ruled the island for almost 250 years.  In fact, some trace the name to the Arabic word “qanawat“.  These little fried tubes of dough were filled by hand right in front of us with sweet mascarpone cheese and garnished with white chocolate shavings.IMG_7092  I thought they could have made it better with some milk or dark chocolate shavings to balance out the sweeter cheese, but they were competently made.IMG_7093  As for the fruit crumble, I heard that it had strawberry and rhubarb in it which was a first for me.IMG_7094  I found it to be like eating a warm strawberry pie with the buttery crumbles, so I don’t know what the rhubarb brought to the equation.  IMG_7096The fresh blueberries and strawberries were also a refreshing solution to beating the heat.  After that we had an epic trek to one of the best ice cream places in all of Toronto according to Aaron who’s kind of a maestro when it comes to the cold stuff.  Ed’s Real Scoop was nothing special on the outside, but clearly on the inside it was happening based on the butt to gut traffic that was occupying the non-A/C interior which was brutal.IMG_7110  Still, I knew this place was my jam based on this punny size display, the large selections of ice cream, gelato, and toppings.IMG_7101  IMG_7104IMG_7105IMG_7109IMG_7107After chuckling to myself, I made the tough decision by getting a large with creme brulee ice cream and burnt marshmallow with a free topping in the form of Coffee Crisp, a Canadian candy bar that isn’t Stateside.IMG_7106  Pricewise, it’s not the cheapest place since my large was around 5 bucks, but I got a ton of ice cream for my money and a free topping! IMG_7111 Not only that, but they hand make all of their ice cream and waffles cones on their own machine that is right to your left when you walk into the store.  They take their ice cream, gelato, drinks, and confections very seriously, and this care is reflected in the quality from first spoon to last.  The creme brulee took me right to the Riviera complete with chunks of the burnt, crunchy sugar topping in each bite while the burnt marshmallow was perfect for a summer night.  All I was missing was a bonfire and some graham crackers to make some s’mores.  The Coffee Crisp was like a flaky wafer coated in milk chocolate that created that s’more effect.  Janice got a cinnamon cheesecake milkshake, and it was a slurptacular way to beat the heat as we walked along Toronto’s beachfront. IMG_7112 After walking for what seemed forever, we made it to Aaron’s neighborhood in the Scarborough area.  We hit up Casa di Giorgio Ristorante. IMG_7117 By this point, we were ready to devour some food, and this Italian eatery fit the bill.  The ladies got different types of pasta, so naturally I didn’t eat it.  Janice seemed happy with her tortellini alla crema ($16.95) which were cheese stuffed shells with a white cream sauce.  IMG_7114I opted for pizza instead.  They have so many great choices, but I picked the Veranzano ($16.95).  It had everything I love:  meat, cheese, and veggies. IMG_7115 The goat cheese and salty prosciutto balanced the fresh arugula and mild, roasted red peppers.  Based on my experience and the others’ plates, it was a good Italian restaurant if you’re looking for simple but well made food.  Aaron and Alyssa hadn’t even been there before, and they live there.  So it was a great hidden find and a molto bene note to end our stay in TO with our good friends and even better guests. IMG_7118 Thanks for everything guys, and see you on the open road!
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Toronto (Day 2): Falling In Love Is Just Peachy

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Oh, Canada!  You have provided me with such great material that I can’t wait to tell everyone about day two of our adventures in Toronto.  Today’s post mainly revolves around our trip to Niagara Falls and to an extremely popular restaurant with a unique and fun to say name.

We woke up to a wonderfully gray sky that quickly developed into a legitimate downpour.  That combined with the speedy Canadian drivers made the trip all the more hazardous.

Jan Jan just being trip photographer

Jan Jan just being trip photographer

Luckily, we made it to the famous falls in one piece, but there was no sign of the rain abating.  We ran through the drops and around the hordes of tourists to the visitors’ center to get our adventure passes, and what an adventure we had.  First, there was the cutesy video they showed us that was pure edutainment explaining how the falls were formed via an anthropomorphic beaver and owl.  That then led to a large chamber that highlighted Niagara’s Fury which amounted to a 360 degree screen that went along with a 4-D movie complete with rain which meant we had to wear ponchos through the entire film.  The only time I felt scared/disturbed was afterward in the gift shop that the movie chamber was connected to, naturally.  The main reason why I was scared was due to the demonic looking beaver plushes. IMG_6922 However, not all was disturbing since we had fun11692670_10105957316152539_8144874219333573867_n and made some friends along the way. 11745424_10105957240139869_5129336564047481268_n We quickly moved on to the fun nature walk that went along the Niagara river, and it was weird to think that we were in another country even though the USA was literally a stone’s throw away in the form of New York State.  Due to the rain, there also weren’t a lot of tourists on this part of the tour, so we were delighted with that development while soaking in the beautiful surroundings.  My socks also soaked up the river when a huge wave crashed against the rocks right where we were standing.  After all of that walking, we worked up an appetite, so we decided to try another Canadian tradition that Aaron recommended:  Pizza Pizza.  When Janice and I first heard him say it, we thought it was Little Caesar’s due to the mascot’s signature catchphrase.  We were wrong!  Turns out it is a Canadian institution that apparently also claims to have done a lot of pizza firsts like putting pineapple on a pizza, using delivery bags, and using virtual advertising.  It’s their go-to for fast food pizza;  it’s not amazing but not terrible, as Aaron put it.  We agreed with his assessment. IMG_6928 We both got slices of veggie pizza that was fresh and covered with peppers, onions, and mushrooms.  We also split a side of fries that were well made, and I spiced it up with this lemon pepper seasoning they offered on the side.  ‘Twas a nice sour and spicy kick to the delicious fries.  I’d recommend trying this Canadian culinary staple.  Once we were fueled up, we got on the Hornblower ship to see the falls.  IMG_6948It was cool, wet, and wild as the wind was blowing up our ponchos a la Marilyn Monroe.11703117_10105957315548749_8925081409671534301_n  After taking a ton of pictures while looking like sea hobos wearing trash bags, we left Niagara for Toronto.  We had a delicious dinner date planned at David Chang’s Momofuku.  It was another restaurant that was participating in Toronto’s Summerlicious restaurant week, so we were excited to finally be able to try this high end establishment.  The head chef who created Momofuku, David Chang, is one of the biggest names in the cooking game.

Momofuku the creation of superstar chef David Chang brings his food to Toronto. The much anticipated resto is famous for noodles and pork buns. (Photo by Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Momofuku the creation of superstar chef David Chang brings his food to Toronto. The much anticipated resto is famous for noodles and pork buns. (Photo by Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

He has tons of accolades, experience, and a personality/temper that is larger than life that also reflects his passion for finding and creating good food with simple ingredients.  This outlook on cooking has resulted in Momofuku expanding to a ton of other franchises like Ma Peche, Ssam Bar, and Milk Bar in NYC.  IMG_6959IMG_6994The Toronto location we were at was relatively new and consisted of five different mini-restaurant areas:  Shoto, Daisho, Milk Bar, Nikai, and Noodle Bar.IMG_6961  Clearly, there is a lot of Asian influence in his menus based on the names of the restaurants.  The interior was super busy but modern in design.IMG_6967IMG_6968Noodle Bar was at the bottom with communal seating while the other areas were more traditional in nature.  I’d highly recommend making reservations at Momofuku before you go.  If you’re wondering, Momofuku actually means “lucky peach” in Japanese, and I think a bit of that luck rubbed off on us since they put us right at the bar in front of the open kitchen.  It was all hustle bustle in the narrow corridor as we watched these artists whip together bowls of ramen, appetizers, and boil noodles like their lives depended on it. IMG_6971IMG_6966 We were ready to eat with the same gusto.  The menus were handed out to us, and we had a lot of tough decisions to make in a first world problems sort of way. IMG_6964 In the end, we made our choices which consisted of four courses for 25 bucks, and they came out very quickly based on how the chefs were working.  The first course took the form of a fancy fried jalapeno pepper for me. IMG_6978 It was stuffed with cream cheese and sturgeon, apparently and had a side of ssam sauce. IMG_6979 It was ok, and I didn’t even taste the sturgeon.  The ssam sauce pepped up the tiny pepper a bit with a sweet hint, but I’ve had better ones at your average bar.  Janice’s slightly larger hot and honey chicken wing was a better choice.  IMG_6976IMG_6977It lived up to its name with a garlic, sriracha, and scallion glaze that was both savory and sweet with a subtle spiciness.  After those tidbits, we got our bun course.  They were clearly inspired by the Chinese buns used for Peking duck, and they were hearty little buggers.  I’d recommend these menu items for appetizers.  My spicy lamb bun was very interesting. IMG_6985 The fluffy light bun encased a hunk of spiced lamb, bean sprouts, lettuce, and spicy mayo.  Biting into it, it tasted just like an Asian inspired gyro sans tzatziki sauce.  Janice’s pork bun was average. IMG_6986 Yeah, the ingredients were fresh, and it was well made.  It was just a bit blander compared to my vivacious lamb bun.  Then our entrees finally came out.  My very  extremely spicy noodle bowl was vibrant in terms of presentation and flavor.  Our waiter was pretty skittish when I said I wanted it spicy and even described it as “stupid spicy”, but I was skeptical of his assessment given my previous tussles with fiery meals.  He brought it out with a side of soy milk just to make sure the white boy didn’t lose his mind and taste buds,IMG_6981 but I think I lost them a long time ago when I discovered ghost pepper sauce.  It was spicy but with plenty of savory, smoky flavor.  It could have been a bit better if there was some sort of meat in it, but I was still happy with my choice.IMG_6982 If you like spicy food and have a tolerance for habanero or higher fire, then get this dish.

Good to the last ember

Good to the last ember

My girlfriend tried a bit, but immediately ran to her glass of water.  Janice’s Momofuku ramen was more savory than spicy. IMG_6983 It looked exactly like the ramen I tried in Japan, and it was just as tasty.  The fish cake, eggs, and melt in your mouth pork all were bobbing in a rich beef based broth.  IMG_6984The pork was exceptional with clear layers of succulent meat and juicy fat.

Absolutely gorgeous

Absolutely gorgeous

The noodles were plentiful and slurp-worthy,

She liked it just a little bit

She liked it just a little bit

so it was much more of a solid choice if you appreciate good ramen and less brash flavors compared to my spicy noodles.  Rounding out the meal were our desserts.  I decided to try Milk Bar’s cereal soft serve. IMG_6989IMG_6990 It looked like a run of the mill vanilla cup of ice cream, but its taste was unique.  It literally tasted like milk and cereal!  It was a cool concept, and I’d recommend it.  Janice was less satisfied with the crispy coffee panna cotta or “cooked cream” in Italian. IMG_6991 She was entertained with the chocolate balls on top that looked like rabbit poopIMG_6992 and the coffee layer was delicious, but the custard wasn’t up to snuff. IMG_6993 We left the restaurant greatly satisfied, and it was a pleasing end to a very eventful day.  If you’re into Asian cuisine or comfort food or both, head on down to Momofuku if you have a chance.
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Catching Some Delicious Zzzs

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Welcome one and all to another molto bene Mastication Monologues!  Today’s entry deals with a food that has recently been linked to the epidemic of childhood obesity:  pizza.  Sadly, kids may love this cheesy treat, but it doesn’t love them back.  Still, who can honestly admit that they don’t enjoy a fresh slice right out of the oven with your favorite toppings from your favorite spot without any of the fuss of shopping, cooking, and then cleaning dishes?  This wonderful feeling of culinary satisfaction can be found at a local pizza spot by me called Zazzo’s Pizza in Darien, IL.

While I have had my fair share of different types of pizza from different parts of the globe, Zazzo’s is one of the front runners for a great thin crust pie.  I had never really paid it much mind as I went about my business to the the various stores in the area, but one day my parents had a coupon for it.  Thus the legend was born in my knowledge of all things food.  So, I decided to bring my girlfriend to the local eatery for dinner.  I was surprised to find that this pizzeria bought out the empty storefront next to it to build a new bar and dining room which essentially gave them ten times the capacity for revenue.  They’ve come a long way from the three tables along the front windows.  The new digs had a basic sports bar vibe, so no need for any sort of fancy attire.  IMG_4888The menu had the same no-frills approach as they focused on bar food and Italian cuisine. IMG_4887 We started the meal by sharing an order of spinach artichoke dip ($9.95).  This was a great appetizer since it came with both hot, crust Italian bread along with warm pita bread triangles. IMG_4889 The dip was also warm with a nice sprinkling of fresh Parmesan cheese that gave the artichoke chunks a slightly salty and nutty aftertaste. IMG_4891 We then went for the 14″ Veggie Special thin crust pizza ($21.10).  Now, it serves three, but when I’m hungry, I can really throw down, especially when it comes to Zazzo’s.  When it came out, it was just as good as I remembered it.  IMG_4892It was large and in charge with an enticing smell that immediately tells you that you’re in for a treat.  The Veggie Special consisted of an adequate amount of mozzarella combined with mushroom, green pepper, onion, and fresh tomatoes. IMG_4896 Each ingredient was as plentiful and fresh as the next.  As for the sauce, it was just the right amount where the crust wasn’t dry, but it also wasn’t gushing out with each bite like you’re doing your best Jaws impression (the killer shark, not the killer giant from the James Bond series).  IMG_4895Then there was the crust.  I believe that this foundation of the pizza can either make or break the dish, and in Zazzo’s case I love their thin crust.  It’s not super NYC thin but not deep dish thick.  It has a light powdering of flour on the edges, and it has an almost airy like texture with a crunch that doesn’t hold back.  All of these elements make it one of the hidden gems of the pizza world in the Chicagoland area.

So if you are looking for a great pizza place in the western Chicago suburbs and don’t want to visit one of the big pizza chains like Giordanos or Uno’s, check out the pizzeria with a lot of pizzazz:  Zazzo’s Pizza!

Zazzo's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Bittersweet Symphony

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The summer is slowly but surely winding down, Mastication Monologues readers, but that doesn’t mean that the posts are going to be slowing down as well.  While things have been getting a bit tenser on the job front with my federal application, I always manage to forget about my troubles with a good meal like at Paisan’s Pizzeria in Berwyn, IL.

Throughout Mastication Monologues, I’ve tried pizza in various parts of the United States and world, and have weighed in on what my personal preferences are when it comes to the doughy delight.  So, I thought that perhaps Paisan’s could offer yet another dimension on the beloved Italian food.  I mean, the name of the place roughly translates to “friend/brother/sister/partner” in Italian, so already it exuded a welcoming atmosphere before I even set foot in the place.IMG_3799Upon walking into the establishment, my parents and I were awed at the overall size of the interior and design of this modern bar and grill.IMG_3803  It was like Portillo’s minus all of the faux 1920’s Prohibition gangster crap festooning the walls.  Instead, it had more of an industrial garage feel that felt edgy yet safe enough to have family gatherings there (which they do do in the back in their banquet rooms). IMG_3805 As we walked past tables full of happy  customers and gawking at the exposed ductwork, we were seated in a larger, more open dining area that was distinguished by two large aquariums.  There were three fish in one tank, but these puppies could have been mistaken for Leviathans.  The white one, who I dubbed “Moby Dick”, actually let me take his picture.

Thar he blows!

Thar he blows!

After meeting these aquatic locals, I looked over Paisan’s menu.  It was the embodiment of the Italian abbondanza (abundance) food culture where there was something for everyone to eat including appetizers, salads, wraps, barbecue, sandwiches, flatbreads, pasta, and pizza.  My family and I decided to go for the final option since I had a hankering for a good slice.  Paisan’s offers all varieties of pizza including specialty pies, thin crust, extra-thin (read:  New York City pizza), deep dish, stuffed, and Sicilian style which is like pizza made of foccacia.  Since we didn’t want to wait around for the thicker pizzas that take at least an hour to cook, we just ordered a cheese and sausage family size (16″, serves 3-4 people) thin crust pizza ($18).

It took about thirty minutes for the pizza to come out to our table, and I was starving by that time.  It passed the visual inspection with plenty of cheese and sausage covering the crust along with a perfectly bronzed and flour dusted crust.IMG_3810  I could tell this was authentic to Chicago’s pizza culture since it was cut in squares or more commonly known as a “party cut” since it’s easier to grab at a party along with giving more slices to more people.  However, much like the debate over who has the best pizza in Chicago, the polemic rages over which cut is better:  traditional slice or party?  Square or slice, I quickly tore into this beauty.  It was a nearly perfect pizza aside from two features I didn’t care for.  First, the sausage wasn’t seasoned with spices that give the pizza a slight herbal kick with each bite.  I assume that’s why Paisan’s has shakers full of oregano on each table to compensate for the absence of said seasonings.  The only other aspect of this meal I didn’t enjoy was the sauce.  There was a bit too much on it for my liking, and it had a sweet aftertaste that left me with a sour taste in my mouth.  While some enjoy the contrast of sweet in a typically savory dish, I’d get  just a cookie pizza if I wanted some of the sweet stuff on my pie.  These two negatives didn’t put much of a damper on the meal since I really enjoyed the copious amounts of cheese that covered every square inch of the slices, and the crust was crispy and neither burnt nor undercooked.  We polished off the pizza and were satiated.

After leaning back and feeling the food baby growing within me, I was happy but not blown away by the pizza.  It was competently made, but I could go elsewhere and find better in Chicago like at Apart or Home Run Inn.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have any room for their mouth-watering desserts or tempting gelato.  IMG_3809IMG_3808Oh well, until next time, my friend!

 

Paisans Pizzeria and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The Upper Crust

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Italy is a country known for many cultural exports that range from supercars, beautiful people, political corruption with a real flourish, and a culinary legacy without equal.  From my own backyard to the other side of the world, I have seen variations on some well known Italian specialties like pizza along with some new inventions like the Italian beef sandwich.  A new food superstore called Eataly arrived in Chicago a few years ago and is the figurative baby of famed, Croc-donning chef Mario Batali.  There are currently locations all over the world in Chicago, NYC, Japan, Istanbul, Dubai, and of course, Italy. I had previously spoken with friends and family about their experiences within the establishment, and I heard nothing but rave reviews.  After waiting way too long to finally see what all the hubbub was about, I finally made the trek with my lovely girlfriend, Janice.

It was overwhelming right from the beginning as we walked through the monstrously large glass doors. IMG_3569 Not only that, but Eataly was dedicated to the one and only Ernest Hemingway.  Apparently Papa spent a good amount of time in the Veneto region of Italy which is known for its bountiful food and drink.IMG_3586  Then again, it made me think of the litany of restaurants and watering holes throughout the world that try to cash in on Hemingway’s legacy. IMG_3572 Oh well, I don’t think Eataly was having many problems with business as hordes of people were streaming through the doors and buzzing about the interior as I looked in awe at the cathedral of food that towered before me.  Fresh plums and nectarines lay in front of me as we passed them to the escalator to start on the second floor.  We passed each section that was devoted to a certain part of the Italian culinary landscape like pasta, fish, fried food, bread, cheese, meat and wine.  IMG_3570It looked like all of the produce was kept to the first floor while the second floor was solely devoted to the restaurant portion of the store.  It was like an elite food court where you could go from counter to counter and pay for top notch service and foodstuffs, way too many to enumerate here.IMG_3571  So, I’ll just tell you about what Janice and I tried during our visit.  We settled on the popular pizza and pasta section of the second floor and were immediately seated in front of one of the expansive windows over looking Rush Street.  It was a perfect seat for our date, so hint hint to all you couples out there.10392551_10104334278063879_9013471860543625337_n10425370_10104334278323359_9161369142543183651_n  Our waiter was quite helpful in explaining the menu options while supplying us with complimentary pieces of bread and a plate of olive oil.IMG_3573  This definitely wasn’t Papa Joe’s in terms of the pre-meal munchies, but the bread was delicious.  The edges were crusty and crunchy, and the dough was pliable and had a slightly nutty flavor.  The olive oil was quite smooth on the palate.  I wish they brought out some balsamico as well.  After looking over the menu with lots of deliberation, we settled on sharing the Genovese pizza ($18).

According to the website, at Eataly they only utilize Neapolitan pizza making techniques that one can watch before it comes to the table.  We decided to take in the view instead before as our 12″ pie was delivered to our table. IMG_3574 Looking at it, it was more reminiscent of the pizzas I had in Italy or even New York.  Our waiter said that due to the delicate crust, it was recommended that we use knives and forks to consume the mouth-watering looking pieces.  So we naturally obliged, but we still thought you could eat it with your hands if you don’t feel like putting on airs.  Regardless of others perceptions, we tucked into our meal.  The dough was delicate but with plenty of artisanal flour flavor with a slightly buttery hint.  IMG_3578As for the toppings, there was a generous layer of mozzarella cheese across said crust and topped with a mix of the aforementioned olive oil, tidbits of salty and slightly fatty Parma ham, rich and zesty pine nut pesto, bits of aromatic basil, and diced garlic cloves.  All of these elements came together to make one of the best thin crust pizzas I’ve ever tried.  I normally don’t like crusts, but this pizza’s end pieces were light and chewy which I prefer over their crunch counterparts (this also applies to my cookie affinities).10464354_10104334278473059_7202246310904679489_n  Once we finished that, we moseyed down to the first floor for dessert at, where else?, the Nutella bar. IMG_3580 If you don’t know what Nutella is, it’s the choice snack spread of the gods.  While the British have marmite and Australians have vegemite, once again the Italians outcook them with this sweet, molto chocolately, hazelnut-based topping for bread, toast, and other items.  We could have gone for the gelato or candy counter, but the Nutella bar landed us with their large tubs of the dark chocolate nectar and circular griddles for nutella stuffed crepes.IMG_3581  They had a good amount of Nutella inspired items, but I knew what I wanted:  il bacio di dama ($4.80; literally:  the lady’s kiss).  Fitting for my date.  Janice got the saccottino con Nutella ($3.80).  When we got our individual noms, we couldn’t find a spot to sit down since it was so jammed, but luckily a guy who reminded me of Bill Cosby offered to scoot down so we could sit at the communal tables.  My plate consisted of two hazelnut cookies with a thin layer of Nutella in between. IMG_3584 From the first to last nibble, it was a flavorful pleasure like shifting through the gears on a Murcielago through the hills of Tuscany.  The cookies were soft, fresh, and nutty which balanced out the sweet innards. IMG_3585 As for Janice’s saccottino, it was a pastry made with croissant dough that had an extremely thick schmeer of the hazelnut topping that bordered on the obscene. IMG_3583 I’d recommend they cut down on the Nutella, or you get a drink to go with this dessert.  Perhaps that is all part of their scheme for you to buy more merchandise since half way through it it felt like I was eating a ball of glue coated in chocolate.  It was tasty nevertheless.

In summary, Eataly is a wonderful place for foodie and tourists alike, but it’s not the cheapest place in the world to experience all of Chicago’s culinary potential.  That is not to say though that you will be ripped off since everything is extremely high quality for the price.  I finally visited it, but I don’t know if it will be a regular haunt on my food list in Chicago.

Eataly 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

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