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Tag Archives: sangria

Top of the Tabla

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Bienvenidos a Mastication Monologues!  The weather has been absolutely perfect as of late here in Chicago, but I feel like the chill of the Fall will be here sooner rather than later.  With it, comes a longing for hearty food and more robust drinks  in terms of spices and general ingredients.  Ergo, I’d like to put forth a new restaurant review of Las Tablas, a Colombian steakhouse that gives you gargantuan portions of delicious food for reasonable prices to fortify you for Chicago’s terrible winter.  IMG_4076

We went to this eatery earlier in the summer for one of Janice’s friends birthdays, so they were easily able to accommodate our enormous party.  The interior of the establishment was simple and some of the most eye-catching decorations were pictures on the wall of different people who seemed to have a bit of a weight problem.  These rotund subjects were signature pieces of “the most Colombian of Colombian artists”, Fernando Botero.  His unique take on artwork has created quite a following throughout the world, and it was an authentic piece of the homeland as we sat down and perused the menu.  We started with drinks.  While Las Tablas is BYOB, you can also order drinks off their menu.  We split a pitcher of sangria since it was a fun summer drink for the extremely humid night. IMG_4081 It wasn’t anything special though.  The wine was semi-acidic and didn’t really possess any of bold sweetness that comes from the sugar and fruit floating in the blood-red elixir.  The food, however, didn’t let us down.  They have plenty of authentic Colombian appetizers and entrees to choose from.  Even though its a steakhouse, vegetarians never fear!  They do have veggie friendly options for you.  For example, the aborrajado ($6) I got was vegetarian but not vegan friendly.  According to the menu, the aborrajado is a specialty from the coastal region of Colombia that consisted of a sweet plantain filled with guava jelly and topped with melted cheese. IMG_4084 While that seemed like an odd mix of ingredients, it actually jived pretty well.  Apparently, the banana was supposed to be fully fried according to Wikipedia, but my plate was semi-fried and was gooier if anything.  If you get this appetizer, let it cool off for a long time.  Although it smells like a freshly baked apple and banana pie, you will get a blazing mouthful of napalm.  Not a good look when out with friends for a fun time speaking from experience.  When I finally let it cool down enough, I found it to be a unique but tasty dish.  If you have a sweet tooth and a love for chewy, salty cheese then this is the ideal appetizer for you.  The guava and banana were a dynamic duo that teamed up with the cooked cheese on top for a sweet and salty treat.  I was semi-full after it, but I still had to choose an entree.  After looking over the numerous meat options, I got the bandeja paisa (literally:  “country tray”) ($21).  My girlfriend got a combinacion ($21) with a plantain, skirt steak, yuca, potato, and baby calamari.

When both of the plates came out, my eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach.  My girlfriend’s plate was especially eye catching with the slightly char-grilled baby octopodes (or octopi if you’re all about mixing Greek and Roman pluralizations).IMG_4085  Some of them were quite chilling to look at on other peoples’ plates where they had faces similar to Edvard Munch’s The Scream.  Creepy cephalopods aside, they were quite delicious with a nice firm texture and a great charred aftertaste mixed in with the semi-buttery flesh.  As for my plate, where to begin? IMG_4087 First, there was the rib-eye steak.  Lord, was it perfect.  Juicy, tender, and bursting with rich, meaty flavor.  The other meat element, the fried pork belly, looked very similar to another type of bacon I tried that also tricked me in Hungary.  It was a lot harder to eat than the steak because of the tough pork skin it was attached to, but that didn’t stop me from getting my hands dirty and perhaps scaring some of my fellow diners in the process. IMG_4117 You don’t mess with a man and his bacon.  It was worth the greasy face and fingers with each nugget oozing salty and porktastic notes that were probably as addictive as Pablo Escobar’s finest wares.  The beans were ok, but they were enhanced when I mixed them in with the freshly sliced avocados, white rice (that was on the dry side), and the fried egg atop the mini rice mound.  The arepa on the side was also quite tasty since it was filled with more of the cheese that was melted on top of the aborrajado from earlier in the meal.  It was like a South American version of a Mexican quesadilla, and I’ve tangled with the Salvadorian version of an arepa on an earlier food adventure.  There was no way I was going to finish all of this food, so I threw in the towel by the time I finished all the meat, arepa, and avocados.  I couldn’t stuff myself any more with rice and beans.  In the haze of my food coma, I knew I experienced something special that night from a place I had never been to before but hope to experience one day.

Me riding home from the restaurant.

Me riding home from the restaurant.

So if you want a taste of Colombia without having to hop on a plane, check out Las Tablas for some of the best steaks this side of the equator!

Las Tablas on Urbanspoon

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Tapa The Heap Parte 1: Ze Background

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Hello to all who have been following my blog, and I am finally ready to write another one of my fantastic entries about the restaurants I have been to in my life so far.  Unfortunately, as of late it has been quite barren in terms of seeking out new eateries to sample due to various factors such as work, translation studies and saving babies from burning buildings (the last one is just a hobby).  However, after talking to some friends, they actually brought up a good idea about a genre of food that I have been ignoring for the longest time and yet have probably the best aptitude on judging the overall quality of the meal:  tapas!

Now many of you have never tried tapas or perhaps have heard a little bit about them.  First off, Spanish cuisine is nothing like Mexican cuisine (i.e. there is very little use of spicy ingredients like jalapeños, the portions for tapas are not like the Mexican burritos that are as big as an artillery shell, and a Spanish tortilla isn’t a type of flatbread but rather a gelatinous omelet of sorts just to name a few differences).

Tortilla Espanola Con Mucha Atitud

Tortillas We All Know and Love from Taco Bell

Don Queso de Cabra Española is not quite as imposing as Señor Burrito

Enough food to feed the entire midwest

Instead, the tapa style of eating is an integral part of the Spanish culture and often reflect the regional specialties in the choices of ingredients.  In terms of the history of tapas, the name of these curious little appetizers comes from the Spanish verb tapar which means “to cover”.  What exactly did these pieces of food cover you might ask aside from satiating your beckoning hunger?  Well, the legend depends on who you’re asking, but one source says that Spanish King Alfonso XIII received a glass of wine at a local tavern in Cadiz with a piece of bread with chorizo (sausage) on top of his beverage to keep flies out  and sand out of his food due to the fact that Cadiz is on the southern Spanish coast.  Presently, tapas are no longer served on top of glasses of wine but are often arranged in bars all around Spain as a sort of buffet which patrons move from bar to bar while standing and enjoying these freshly made little bites of deliciousness while also partaking in many different types of local beverages whether they be a glass of sidra (alcoholic cider common in the Basque country) or cava(a variant of champagne native to the Penedes region of Catalunya) for example.

It´s like Cheers with More Food and Less Ted Danson

After staying in Barcelona for a year and returning to the States, I longed for my dear tapas that I would often partake in after a long day working at my studies or as a meal before the discotecas at night.  After going to many different tapas restaurants around the Chicagoland area, I decided to highlight Meson Sabika located at 1025 Aurora Ave Naperville, IL 60540.  It is probably one of the most authentic taperias I have been to so far stateside, but the ambiance alone will make you fall in love with this charming eatery.

The Real Casa Blanca

The actual restaurant is quite different than the usual ethnic restaurant because it immediately creates a sense of elegance as it is housed in the mansion of a deceased millionaire from the turn of the 20th Century.  Plus, due to the spacious groundspace, they host wedding receptions in the guest house which is quite roomy and outfitted with all the amenities for a bash no one will forget…but I digress.  Upon walking in the door, you will feel as if you were taken back to a forgotten time as the narrow staircase leads upstairs to the banquet rooms as the main dining rooms on the first floor are always packed with people to the left and right of you (On weekend, I definitely recommend making reservations especially if the weather is nice).  Plus, every Friday night from 8pm to 10pm, there is live flamenco guitar and flamenco dancing which definitely adds to the overall experience of dining.

Nothing like dining al fresco

I’ll comment on the last time I was there which was this past June, and it was an absolutely gorgeous day.  So, I managed to eat for the first time outside on the patio, and the location was perfect.  Our waiter was very attentive and even explained what tapas were even though my friend and I lived in Spain, so we just nodded our heads and agreed while admiring his ardor.  To drink, we actually ended up ordering the pomegranate sangria which is not on the menu but should definitely be tried (insider tip right there!).  The wine provided a tart fruity tang with a slight aftertaste of the brandy/the chopped up oranges and lemons and limes.  If you want to try some other Spanish drinks that are quite easy to make if you’re having a big party or are looking for a new drink for the summer, I would recommend tinto de verano (summer red wine) which has many variants, but I often had as red wine mixed with lemon soda or a kalimotxo (pronounced ca-lee-moh-cho) which is 50% cola and 50% red wine.  Now that I have set the scene, the next post will expound on the mouth-watering tapas that will make you want to hop on to the next plane to the peninsula.  Hasta luego for now food fans!

Meson Sabika on Urbanspoon

Meson Sabika-Naperville on Foodio54

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