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A Capital Idea!

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Welcome one and all to part deux of Restaurant Week on Mastication Monologues!  If you’re not sure what Restaurant Week is in Chicago, then I highly recommend reading my first post at Hub 51.  Today’s post is somewhat in the similar but even classier vein of high end dining for low low prices.  While I’m all about trying new and exotic foods, my meal at Capital Grille in Chicago was classic steakhouse dining at its finest.  While it’s not one of the old stalwarts of steak in the home of the dearly departed Union stockyards, I really enjoyed my experience at this establishment.

While walking to Capital Grille, I saw that they had valet parking which is a great deal in a part of down that isn’t known for cheap/free parking.  The outside was just a hint of the regal interior inside that had all the pomp of a classic steakhouse down to the dark wood bar and portraits of random white guys sporting some facial hair that would make any modern day hipster proud. IMG_5810IMG_5834IMG_5833 IMG_5832 Capital Grille even has personal wine kiosks for clients who are willing to pony up the cash for their pinot noir, but the coolest thing I thought was that they even had a cabinet for wine for what seemed to be for anyone who is or has served in the armed forces. IMG_5835 I was quickly led to the table for our guys night out that quickly became a double date plus two dudes.  Still, it was a good time had for all as we kicked off the dinner with some drinks.  I got a glass of the Jameson 12 year Reserve.IMG_5815  This drink was smoother than James Bond and Ron Burgundy in a velvet room.  It was the perfect compliment to the free bread basket that was filled to the brim with crisp flatbreads, warm slices of black rye bread, and rock hard rolls (not a fan, personally). IMG_5813 So, since it was Restaurant Week, I went with the accompanying $33 menu which was a bargain for a three course meal.  For my first course, I went with the wedge with blue cheese and applewood smoked bacon.  Initially, I had to ask the waitress what a “wedge” was since I was curious what this wedge consisted of, and she sarcastically answered that it was a type of salad.  When it came out, it all made sense.  Looking at it, it seemed like the laziest salad ever created. IMG_5817 It literally was a quarter of a head of lettuce with dressing and bacon pieces adorning it and sliced tomatoes placed at the foot of this odd looking dish.  So, I proceeded to sliced the lettuce piece to bite-sized pieces along with mixing it up with the extremely decadent ranch, blue cheese chunks, and bacon.  It was the Paula Dean of salads given how fattening it was yet oh so tasty with the tangy dressing mixing with the salty bacon and pungent blue cheese.  It was only a prelude to the epic entree that came out soon thereafter in the form of the 14 oz. bone-in, dry aged sirloin steak along with a side of mashed potatoes and french beans with heirloom tomatoes. IMG_5824 Funnily enough, the girls at the table got the smaller, 8 oz. filet mignon, but that didn’t take away from its quality. IMG_5823 When I dug into the sirloin, it was heaven in meat form.  I got it medium rare which meant that it still was a bit bloody but well done enough to keep in all of the juicy flavors. IMG_5825 It was superbly succulent, and a generously sized piece of steak for the price.  The sides were equally exquisite.  The mashed potatoes were creamy and buttery, and the beans were neither too firm nor too soft.IMG_5822  Then there were the desserts…lord, the desserts.  First, I got the flourless chocolate espresso cake.IMG_5830  It was like a slice of fudge that wasn’t as sugary and not as crumb based as a typical slice of cake.  This texture combined with the intense dark chocolate flavor with coffee hints in each forkful made it hard to beat, and the raspberry sauce was the icing on a cake without equal.  My other dining companions tried the creme brulee which looked lip-smacking good, but sadly I didn’t get to try it. IMG_5831 However, based on their gleaming white bowls at the end of the dessert course, I could only assume they liked it!

So if you want to try a slice of Chicago’s steak culture in the heart of the city, check out Capital Grille.
The Capital Grille on Urbanspoon

Bacon, Potatoes, and Pinapples Oh My!

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Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of Mastication Monologues!  So I’ve officially been in Korea for one month, and it seems like it has flown by even though every day felt like it was moving as slow as molasses.  When it comes to culinary adventures, however, it has been quite a whirlwind tour.  I’ve had a plethora of Korean specialties and so many different types of rice cake that they could probably fill a phone book.  However, today I will be relating my experience of trying Korean pizza for a second time.  In comparison to the first time trying Korea pizza from Pizza Maru in my previous post, “A Slice of the East”, the pizza from Pizza Etang was delicious yet peculiar in wonderful way.IMG_0002

First, there were the circumstances in which I consumed said meal.  I had just finished a day of teaching 5th grade, and everything went quite well aside from witnessing some intimidating Korean teacher discipline after the bell rang in one class.  After eating a large Korean lunch of random rice dishes and a soy sesame sauce that was way too salty for its own good, a delivery man came into our teacher room in with a bottle of Coke.  I went back to work in my cubicle thinking nothing of it, but next thing I know, I’m being invited over for a group meal of pizza and Coke with my co-teachers.  Turns out my 5th grade teacher ordered it to celebrate my first month in Korea and because she was angry at students (I think that was lost in translation haha).  Anyway, the first pizza I tried was the potato and bacon pie.  It was very decadent since it combined fatty meat, starches, and a ranch sauce.  The bacon was on the chewier side and had little to no seasoning (neither smoking nor encrustments).  Crunchy bacon lovers look elsewhere if you’re getting this pizza.  It was like having a loaded baked potato sans sour cream on a pizza because there wasn’t the traditional layer of tomato sauce underneath the cheese.  I’ll comment on the crust at the end since it’s unlike anything I’ve ever had.IMG_0003

The second pizza consisted of the same crust and was sporting not just cheese but zucchini, sausage, and pineapple.  The cheese and lack of sauce was similar to the previous pie, but the other toppings were surprisingly tasty together.  Now I, along with one of my heroes, Anthony Bourdain, think that Hawaiian pizza is one of the worst creations in the world.  I mean, who puts ham and pineapple on a pizza?  Blasphemy, I say, but with this Pizza Etang pinapple pizza, it somehow changed my mind in regard to pineapple’s status in the hierarchy of pizza toppings.  I think that it helped that the sausage crumbles it was paired with had slight bacon and herbal tones to lessen the saccharine overtones of the pineapple pieces.  The zucchini also managed to contribute a complimentary, earthy springboard from which the previously mentioned flavors could fully express themselves on my palate.  As the first pizza had a drizzling of ranch dressing in a spiral pattern, this pineapple pizza had barbecue sauce.  This savory element with the pork sausage and pineapple made it taste like I was at some sort of Hawaiian luau.  Take notes American pizza chains!  Now to the oddest part of the pizza:  the crust.

Coming from Chicago, I’ve seen my fair share of pizza crusts from the worst frozen cardboard disks to deep dish wonders of flour and buttery perfection.  Now that I’m in Korea, some of the creations I have tried have been complete game-changers.  Pizza Maru promoted their healthy dough that contained green rice and black Korean rice, but Pizza Etang went in their own direction with the actual construction of the crust that seemed to be flour based (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was rice-based, though).  Right after the cheese/toppings ended on the slice, I entered an area that was somewhat amorphous with the actual crust handle of the slice.  It was dusted with minuscule, toasted potato shavings and beneath it was an extremely thin layer of Korean sweet potato baked into the crust.  I had to closely inspect a slice to see what was causing the crust to taste so scrumptious, and when I found the lurking tubers, it made sense why the crusts provided the perfect semi-sweet flourish to each slice.

So if you’re looking to try some pizza with a unique crust and fresh toppings in Incheon and probably Seoul, try Pizza Etang!

79 A.D. (Always.Delicious.)

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Hello to everyone out there and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Throughout the history of mankind, we have been plagued with many different types of natural disasters:  earthquakes, floods, and volcano eruptions.  The first two events are more common than the last one, but volcanoes seem to hold a special place in the place of the human mind in terms of threats from nature.  They are so unpredictable and powerful like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.  The cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were completely covered in ash, and their inhabitants were flash frozen in lava casts.  What does this have to do with food?  Well, yesternight I tried the best Chicken Vesuvio ever at the oldest  Italian restaurant in Chicago, Italian Village, located at 71 West Monroe Street  Chicago, IL 60603.

italian-village

There are three different sections to the restaurant, and each area has its own theme.  Even though it may sound a bit tacky/kitschy, we ended up dining in the quaint “Village” room upstairs.  It was decorated with white lights strung across the ceiling like a big famiglia party I saw in San Gimignano, Italy, and there were mini village buildings along the walls that I assumed you could eat inside for an extra fee.

Che romantico

Che romantico

Upon looking at the menu, I could see that the establishment definitely was well stocked with plenty of Italian American favorites like different types of Parmesans and stuffed pastas.  We even received the typical basket of pane italiano and crispy breadsticks without butter.  The olive oil and Parmesan cheese they provided at the table were high quality and made a great combo with the fresh, semi-crusty bread.  Between bites of the delicious carbs, I saw they served a classic Chicago Italian-American dish:  Chicken Vesuvio.  If I was going to dine at the oldest Italian restaurant in Chicago, I might as well get a meal invented in the same city. This dish also had to cook for thirty minutes, so I  ordered a glass of the Barbera red wine.  Plus, since I ordered one of the entrees, I had the choice of soup or salad.  I decided to plump for a side salad with ranch dressing.  The salad itself was nothing special.IMG_1082 It had the typical mix of lettuce, mixed greens, a tomato slice, julienned carrots, and just the right amount of semi-watery Ranch.  I was surprised for how fast they delivered the salad to me that the vegetables were so fresh and delicious.  Perhaps they don’t prefabricate their salads and are just speed demons on the cook line.

Cooking as good as nonna's

Cooking as good as nonna’s

After waiting patiently, my Chicken Vesuvio came out. I was face to face with half a chicken and roasted potato wedges.  Both the potatoes and chicken were herb encrusted, deep brown, and cavorting with each other in a delicious pool of herbs and chicken drippings.  Sounds kind of like a season of the Jersey Shore.  I decided to scale this gastronomic volcano of deliciousness, and it erupted with flavor from the first bite of a potato wedge.  The tubers were semi-crispy on the outside with hints of rosemary and oregano, and the insides were pure white like the snow of the Italian alps.  As for the chicken, the chicken broth made the meat extra succulent since it was literally falling off the bone.  The best part of the meal was combining the crispy skin with the juicy white meat and dipping it into the broth. My Barbera wine went well with this savory dish even though it wasn’t really red meat.  This Piedmontese libation was slighty acidic but bold; two attributes that really brought out the herbs of the broth and chicken skin.  A word of caution:  there might be some splatter with the broth while you’re cutting the chicken.  So if you’re wearing anything fancy on that first date, don’t get too excited while tucking into this festa italiana.    Once the smoke settled from this smoking cauldron of deliciousness, I was stuffed and satisfied with my choice.

So if you want to experience a piece of authentic Chicago, Italian American cuisine, and/or believe that abbondanza is a virtue in cooking, remember that all roads lead to Italian Village!

Italian Village on Urbanspoon

The Fattest Steak in the West

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Howdy, y’all!!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues.  Today I bring you an entry that truly lives up to its culinary heritage and more.  This week I went to Longhorn Steakhouse out in the Chicago suburbs located at 708 North Janes Avenue  Bolingbrook, IL 60440.

Roy Rogers’ home away from home

I didn’t really have much of an opinion of this restaurant before visiting it due to the fact that the number of steakhouses we have in Chicago/the Chicagoland area is simply a reflection of our long-term infatuation with the perfect slice of meat.  At one point, Chi-town was known more colorfully as the “Butcher for the World” where according to the Chicago Tribune, “At the (stock)yards’ peak in 1924, more than 18.6 million cattle, hogs and sheep passed through that labyrinth.”  However, even though our abattoirs have long left the city limits, Longhorn Steakhouse is an homage to meat, Texas-style.  Upon walking into the door, I felt like I walked into Rattlesnakes steakhouse on King of the Hill.  There was plenty of country music pumping through the sound system and half a head of cattle festooning the walls alongside beautiful landscape oil paintings of Texas.  While our waiter mumbled his way through a standard greeting, he supplied us with a complimentary bread basket.  It seemed to be a wheat, possibly honey wheat, boule that was pre-sliced and served with butter.  I wished they’d give us warmer butter than the cold sphere nestled in its black cup, but the hot bread melted it in a jiffy.  For my main meal, I ordered the Parmesan crusted chicken which came with a side salad and a side.

This is your heart on cholesterol

The salad was pretty tasty especially since they had chipotle ranch.  It added a great zing to a classic dressing, and the greens were a mix of lettuce, purple cabbage, kale, and peppers.  I’m not a huge crouton fan, so I was somewhat annoyed with their prodigious numbers inhabiting the bowl.  I think I already had my fill of bread with the aforementioned basket, thank you.  Anyway, when my main course came out, I was definitely intimidated.  The common phrase about Texas is that everything’s bigger, and this plate was no different.  Instead of tucking into the chicken straight away, I decided to sample a bit of the mashed potatoes first.  I’m surprised they weren’t rocking a questionable haircut and an Armani suit because they were richer than Donald Trump.  The texture was creamy yet maintained some tasty chunks of potato, and butter cascaded down these gentle white slopes.  As for the chicken, it made my heart race…for the wrong reason.  From the very first mouthful, I could not get over the intensely rich Parmesan crust and cheese sauce which blotted out any trace of the chicken.  However, the actual chicken was quite tender even though it tasted like I was gnawing on a block of cheese.  If you have high cholesterol, avoid this dish, and if you don’t and really really love the taste of cheese, only then I’d recommend this meal.  Next time, I’d probably just get a lean steak to avoid this fatty conundrum.

So if you’re looking for a small piece of stereotypical Texas, mosey on down to Longhorn Steakhouse.  Happy Trails!

Longhorn Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

LongHorn Steakhouse on Foodio54

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