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My Neighbor Tokoro

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Hello…helllooo..helloooooo….Is anyone still left out there that reads this blog?  It seriously has been way too long since I have posted any new content on Mastication Monologues, but such is the life of someone working on a 2nd Bachelor’s degree.  Thankfully, the light at the end of the tunnel is near, and I am looking forward to some mental rest and relaxation.  Thankfully, I won’t slack too much though because I have plenty of great reviews and food adventures to bring to you.  Today’s review involves Tokoro Sushi in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

My fiancee, then girlfriend, suggested we try the new eatery when it opened last year, and we have been back since.  However, our first visit wasn’t the most enjoyable compared to the second time.  There is mainly street parking and there are plenty of public transportation options for those of you rocking Ventra cards on the bus or L.  The interior of Tokoro looks like any other sushi restaurant complete with bamboo prints and assorted Japanese tchotchkes.  Fitting given the name of the restaurant in Japanese literally means “place”, i.e. this could be the interior of any of the other million, lower/middle rung Chicago sushi restaurants.  They have a BYOB policy and a free corkage service which helps if you care for a glass of chardonnay to go with your unagi.  Upon sitting down, we looked over their extensive sushi menu and saw most of the the typical Japanese restaurant offerings from lunch specials, soups, gyoza dumplings, sushi rolls, sashimi, and even hibachi offerings for diners searching for something a bit more substantial.  Janice and I preferred to try the figurative treasure chest of sushi that lay before  us in the menu, so we got the “all you can eat” sushi option for 20 bucks.  Some people always wonder or straight up deny that the all you can eat option is a waste of money, but when you think about it, there is some method to the madness.  Based on current trends of fishing, human consumption, and sushi demand from around the world, the price of fish, especially the fatty toro tuna, is only going to sky rocket.   Therefore, placing a cap on your wallet but not on your stomach makes perfect sense to me especially if you were as hungry as we were.  Then again, who knows if most sushi restaurants actually use the fish advertised on the menu.  The results are often times surprising.  Either way, that didn’t stop us from enjoying some good, not great sushi.  Thankfully, we got a complimentary bowl of miso soup which I think should come free with each meal in Japanese restaurants because it is such a simple but satisfying soup to make.  IMG_6101This traditional Japanese soup consists of a kelp/fish based broth and a soy based paste called, you guessed it, miso.  I have never seen it anywhere, but there are also red and mixed color miso pastes used in miso soup.  However, I greatly enjoy the white miso which is typically used in American Japanese restaurants because it is salty, savory, and has a taste that envelopes your entire body with a warmth that is enhanced with the soft cubes of tofu and slightly crunchy scallion strands.  Definitely great for the cold Chicago winters.  Once we drained our bowls, it was time to dive into our sushi.  Side note:  the service was absolutely terrible the first time around in terms of waiting for food, but thankfully they have improved their turnaround time from ordering to bringing out your order.  Our first platter consisted of the crazy tuna roll, spicy tuna roll, and mountain roll.IMG_6102

The crazy tuna roll, the one closest to the wasabi in the picture above, consisted of the rice rolled around a tuna and pepper mix and topped with slices of tuna and a sriracha chili sauce. IMG_6103 I didn’t find it to be too spicy, but it went down just fine.  The mountain roll was next which left the biggest impression on me for this round. IMG_6104 The inside was a cool cucumber and creamy avocado duo, but the real fire came from the spicy crab and spicy mayo on top that was festooned with a sprinkling of crunchy tempura crumbs.  I liked it the most out of the three selections due to the contrast between the relatively understated interior and the more eye-catching exterior.  Kind of a case of sushi superficiality, but this is a roll whose cover really makes the book a must read.  The same could not be said about the spicy tuna roll which was like the crazy tuna roll minus the “crazy” part. IMG_6105 I’m a big spicy food eater, and I didn’t think it lived up to its fiery moniker.  So it was not a big draw for me.  It was just a transition to the next sushi round we ordered.  We amped it up with a volcano roll, a kiss on fire roll, another mountain roll, and got some actual sushi on the side with a tomago, shrimp, and a piece of yellowtail.IMG_6106  I’ve already spoken about the mountain roll, but the volcano roll and kiss on fire roll were bolder than the first round participants.  The kiss on fire roll (between the raw fish and fried roll) did actually bring some spice since below the tuna there was a raw jalapeno pepper resting in wait for our unsuspecting taste buds.  I always like being kept off kilter sometimes during my dining experience, and I would recommend this roll for those who do like a bit of spice with their rolls.  Then there was the volcano roll.  Frying actual sushi is a crime against humanity, yet with rolls it kind of works.  The light, rice flour based batter goes well with the delicately constructed rolls, especially one that was bulging with spicy tuna, crab, avocado, cream cheese, and eel sauce and spicy mayo streaks across the sliced roll.  I think this was more of a luxury roll than a spice-centric entree due to the amount of ingredients that went into it.  I’d still recommend it though if you’re looking for a bit more heft to your typical sushi roll.  I did not have the tomago (egg) sushi, the shrimp, or the yellowfin, but Janice said they were all competently made but not mind-blowingly fresh/delicious.IMG_6107

So, if you’re looking for a solid, middle of the road sushi restaurant on the far northside of Chicago, roll on over to Sushi Tokoro!

Sushi Tokoro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tokyo (Day 4)- Having My Japanese Pancakes and Eating Them Too

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So after dinner on day 3 I went out with my new friend I made from the hostel in Roppongi, and then I made the decision to not sleep in order to stay up to see the world famous Tsukiji tuna auction.  The no-sleep decision was prompted by the fact that they open the visitor line around 3:30 a.m., and it’s first come, first serve with limited spots.  When I got there, I was the second one in line after a Japanese woman, but within the space of ten minutes, there was a line out the gate.  While I was waiting, I munched on this Calorie Mate snack I saw in the convenience store.IMG_1793IMG_1794 I was nerding out since it’s a common food for Solid Snake to eat in Metal Gear Solid 3.

"Mmmm, I want some more!"

“Mmmm, I want some more!”

It ended up being a packet of chocolate cookies that supposedly had multivitamins in it. IMG_1825 Either way it hit the spot while I was attempting to keep my wits about me in line while the fishermen buzzed around me like an ant colony on speed.  The downside of being early was they then herded us into a waiting room where we had to wait for an hour and a half.  Needless to say most people fell asleep on the floor, but we eventually were escorted to one of the most famous moments of food trading. IMG_3441 It was also the most over-hyped thing I was told to see in Tokyo which was kind of sad after not sleeping for almost 24 hours. IMG_3444 However, I looked forward to getting some great sushi at Daiwa Sushi in building 6.  Surprise surprise, I was waiting in another line to get into the restaurant for an hour and a half.  I eventually gave up my spot and went to the sushi stop right next door to it where there were a couple people inside and no line.IMG_1830  I went for the tuna bowl which was transcendent in regard to the overall quality of the pink salmon sheets and crimson tuna chunks. IMG_1829 The rice was fresh with a liberal sprinkling of dried seaweed, and there was plenty of potent wasabi horseradish to back up each bite with a sinus-clearing caress.  A veritable bounty of the ocean on a bed of quality starches.  As soon as I scarfed down the bowl and saw the people I waited in line with still weren’t in the restaurant, I laughed to myself all the way back to my sweet sweet bed at the hostel.

After a refreshing slumber, I awoke to a more laid back day that eventually resulted in me getting lunch on Tsukishima island in southeast Tokyo.  I decided to go there because they specialize in monjayaki which is a Tokyo version of the ever-popular Osaka creation okonomiyaki.  The main difference between these two pancake-esque creations is that the monjayaki is a bit more liquid compared to the doughy okonomiyaki.  I came out Tsukishima station exit 7 and walked a bit down to see a row of restaurants advertising what looked like the pancakes.  I chose one with a ship on top of it because it looked quite popular based on the advertisements, so I walked in to find an empty restaurant with just two old women cleaning the grills. IMG_1841IMG_1840 I could tell by their shocked expressions that they were probably closed like a lot of restaurants seem to do after the peak lunch hour, but they didn’t seem to mind serving me after I repeatedly signed that I was going to leave them be out of awkward foreigner shame.IMG_1836  I saw that their menu had the monjayaki, and I picked the option that had crispy tempura crusts mixed in.  There were plenty more choices that included cheese, cucumbers, rice cake, and tomatoes to name a few.  The woman came out to mix up a bowl of vegetables and batter, and when she put it on the grill it literally looked like a puddle of vomit.

The approach...

The approach…

Go home.  You're drunk.

Go home. You’re drunk.

Mmmm tasty!  However, when it began to fully cook, I realized that there must have been a misunderstanding with the menu.  It seems I had ordered okonomiyaki since it was a solid pancake creation that was quickly topped with mayonnaise, soy sauce, spices, and onion shavings. IMG_1839 Either way, I wasn’t complaining because I had never had either of them in my life.  The okonomiyaki didn’t let me down one bit. IMG_1838 It was a thick, savory pancake that was crunchy yet fluffy, bland yet fiery due to my liberal sprinkling of the chili pepper.  Okonomiyaki means “something grilled how you like it” in Japanese, and I grilled it to its optimum level of deliciousness.  This Osaka import satisfied my search for a good griddlecake in the middle of Japan in the middle of the day.

I topped off my relaxing day with a night stroll through Harajuku which is considered the hub of all the latest youth fashions.  However, I wasn’t going there to sport my latest Rockabilly pompadour or crossdress like a gothic Lolita.  I was going to Kyushu Jaugara which is known for its excellent tonkatsu ramen.  I went there by taking the Chiyoda line to Meiji-jingumei stop, and made an u-turn out of the exit three.  It was right by the Harajuku Quest store, and I couldn’t miss it by its incredibly loud exterior that practically served as a hype man like Flava-Flav for Public Enemy. IMG_1853 When I walked in, the place was hoppin’ with lots of customers seated around the kitchen counter with their faces making sweet love to the noodles within. IMG_1849IMG_1848IMG_1847 Thankfully they had random smatterings of English on the posters, but I also saw that they had an English menu for those who want to have more of a leisurely stroll through their offerings.  The hot and spicy option on the wall immediately got me jonesing for a bowl, so they gave me a small, red plastic chip to give to the cook.  As I waited, I inspected the various spices and free pickled vegetables they had to offer customers along with the large jugs of free water.  Eventually, I was eye to strand with this bowl of perfection for a cold night. IMG_1851 The noodles were firm yet not al dente, and the broth itself had a spicy kick to it that was between a jalapeno and a habanero level of spice.  I loved the fatty pieces of bacon and the green onions, but the strange red sauce didn’t really fit in with the rest of the soup.  I stirred it in, and it was the only neutral element to this Club Med pool party of awesome.  The hard boiled egg resembled a beluga whale slowly drifting through the numerous waves caused by my voracious slurpring per the local custom.  The cook was watching me eat his noodles, and I gave him a thumbs up and a smile while saying, “Very good!”  He replied with a chuckle and an “Excellent!”.  I noticed I followed the proper etiquette for eating the ramen on the counter that said you shouldn’t add any spices and consume the noodles while they’re piping hot.  It was a real cultural experience that lit up my night as bright as the Harajuku neon-splashed avenues.

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