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Sundae Bloody Sundae/Jjampong All Night Long

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Hey hey, everybody!  Welcome to another masterful Mastication Monologues which is just getting better and better as my time in South Korea winds down.  Today I’ll be bringing you two Korean specialties that I had been hearing about for ages but never tried until now.  First, there is sundae (soon-day) which is not the ice cream treat everyone loves, but rather a sausage made with blood.  There is a similar type of sausage in other cuisines like black pudding in England, morcilla in Spain, or kiszka in Poland.  However, it’s not for everyone.  Naturally, I like going off the beaten path when it comes to food, so my friend Bora took me to a specialty sundae restaurant near Sillim station where we’d meet up with her other friend.  I didn’t know what exactly to expect as we walked up the stairs of a pretty dilapidated building, but I was surprised to see how big and popular the place was.IMG_1982  People seemed genuinely surprised to see me there as I walked past tables of soju drinkers inhaling the savory scents coming from the large grills in front of them.  I couldn’t get a good look at the food since the old woman server was gruffly dragging us to her table.  Once seated, we got some sweet aprons that were totally my style…I would be thankful for mine later on in the meal.

My fellow diners

My fellow diners

IMG_1976They supplied us with a complimentary bowl of grilled liver chunks doused with a sesame sauce and seeds.IMG_1979  It was a great antipasto since each piece was firm and packed with rich, meaty tones with shades of the sesame seeds mixed in.  Our brusque server proceeded to bring a large grill similar to the aforementioned ones and piled slices of burgundy sundae, chopped and oiled vegetables, and noodles on the hot surface.  After about ten minutes of waiting, it was deemed ready to eat.  IMG_1981They also provided some sort of chili sauce (center of the grill in the picture) with that seemed like chopped nuts on top which ended up tasting like spicy peanuts.  As for the melange of ingredients on the grill, they were fantastic on the whole.  The eatery’s specialty, the sundae, was slightly chewy but bursting with a slightly iron-rich tang.  My favorite part was the noodles when they fried to a crispy layer that added a welcomed crunch to a mostly chewy meal.  I started to slow down eating when my dining companions apparently ordered fried rice, but the restaurant supposedly didn’t have any more rice which was shocking.  So the server managed to get some out of her own secret stash in her bag (Why she was carrying rice in her bag in the first place is beyond me) along with some cut-up parsley.  It was nothing special.  However, what I had next was unique as being touted as the spiciest and most popular soup in Korea.

As if I thought I couldn’t eat anymore, Bora and Youngmi brought me to Shingildong Spicy Jjambbong located at 165-5 Shingil-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul   (신길동 매운짬뽕, 서울특별시 영등포구 신길동 165-5) for the spicy jjampong (seafood noodle soup) challenge.IMG_1983 It’s so popular in Korea that their main sign has all of the tv channels it has been featured on, and the actual name of the place is only a small name plaque hanging next to the building off a traditional Korean statue.

Black:  Singil-dong (neighborhood) Red- May Oon Jjampong or "spicy jjampong"

Black: Singil-dong (neighborhood)
Red:  May Oon Jjampong or “spicy jjampong”

For months, Bora and Youngmi had also prepped me for what to expect with the spicy jjampong including:  swollen lips, seared nostrils, and a scorched gastro-intestinal tract.  There have been cases of people passing out from the heat, and they have plastic bags in the bathroom for people throwing up.  The official policy is that you have to puke in the bag and throw it out elsewhere because the proprietors were tired of cleaning up the patrons’ stomach contents constantly.  How could I say no?  We first purchased plenty of dairy products to fight the inferno I was about to ingest and then walked in.IMG_1998  The owner was extremely gregarious and excited that a waygookin (foreigner) was going to take on the challenge.  Bora informed him I had tried the Drop Dead Donkatsu challenge before, and he said (in Korean), “The donkatsu is just spice with no flavor.  My jjampong is spicy and tasty.  In my kitchen, it’s pure science.”IMG_1987  After a couple snapshots, I sat down like a man condemned to his last meal as I looked around at all of the warning signs I was walking into a disaster.  Most of it was in Korean with warnings like “out of body experience”, “I shit fire”, or this lovely one.IMG_1994

Just slightly afraid.

Just slightly afraid.

Right before the soup came out, they gave me a mountain of pickled yellow radish slices which was another ominous omen. IMG_1985 Before I knew it, I was face to face with the infamous cauldron of doom. IMG_1988 My fear must have gotten the best of me as I was trying to find the right way to eat it and even forgot how to use chopsticks as shown in my video.  Skip ahead to 1:30 if you want to see me actually eating the noodles and skip all of my fumbling and commentary.

The fear is gripping me.

The fear is gripping me.

When the noodles finally got cool enough to eat, I slurped them up much to the horror of the spectators watching this exercise in pain.  I found the spicy kick to have an immediate effect, but it was mainly focused on my tongue as it was enveloped in a blanket of spice.

The spice has made me crazy!

The spice made me crazy!

It was like eating a mouthful of habaneros, but it wasn’t terrible.  The fumes were actually noxious and bothered my nose now and then, but Youngmi and Bora were actually coughing.  I picked out the mussels and focused on the noodles.  The owner came out to check how I was doing, and I was coping with it like a champ to his dismay.  So he then proceeded to feed me the broth on the spoon with a “here comes the airplane” baby technique which was pretty funny.  However, I realized that the broth was a million times spicier than the soaked noodles, and the vegetables were the worst part since they were like little sponges soaking up the devil’s potion.  Bora told me the radish slices are traditionally put on the tongue to alleviate the diner’s suffering, so I gave it a shot.  I think she just wanted me to look silly, but it did help a little bit.

Just playin' with my food

Just playin’ with my food

Overall, I came through with flying colors for my final spice challenge in Korea, and the owner was right; his soup was extremely flavorful with a spice that was the equivalent of a raging forest fire in my mouth.  So if you’re feeling like you’re up for a challenge or want to get a good laugh while watching your friends eat it/suffer through it, go to Spicy Jjampong.

I don't clown around when it comes to spicy food

I don’t clown around when it comes to spicy food.

Flippin’ Awesome

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What’s up, everybody?  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I’m going to be talking about a well known player on the Seoul food circuit that I finally managed to hunt down and sink my choppers into:  Butterfinger Pancakes.   I went to the one close to Gangnam station.  Leave the station through exit #6. Walk straight ahead to the first street corner and turn left. It’s about 2 blocks down on the left next to Burger King.  As for the hours, they’re open until 3 a.m. if you’re craving some American breakfast items.IMG_1170

I had always heard that it pretty much was the place to go to get a taste of back home, but that it was always super busy.  The night Steph and I went there was no different.  We went on a Saturday night for dinner, and there still was a 15 minute wait which wasn’t too terrible.IMG_1169  We went up to the top floor, and surprisingly it was filled with mostly Koreans.  Walking past the packed tables, I could see huge plates overflowing with food that the patrons were quickly inhaling like they never saw food before.  Perhaps I would have a similar experience.  I knew Butterfingers meant business when I was face to face with its menu.

I think they're trying to compensate for something.

I think they’re trying to compensate for something.

It literally was larger than life just like their prices which ranged from 10,000 to 30,000 Won.  They had everything from pancakes to make your own omelet options.  I wanted to try a little bit of everything, but I eventually went for the breakfast special (17,000 W) which contained eggs (scrambled/sunny side up/hard boiled), white sausage, ham, sausage links, hash browns, and pancakes with your choice of regular butter or vanilla butter.  Steph got the French toast version of the platter.  When they came out, I was taken aback at how much food there was on our plates.

Steph's French toast plate

Steph’s French toast plate

After living in a country where they eat kimchi and rice or maybe nothing for breakfast, this was a shock to the system.  I quickly dove gob first into my meal starting with the eggs.IMG_1173  I thought I would need some salt to make them more palatable, but I was pleased with their buttery goodness.  Plus, they didn’t have that gross gelatinous texture that scrambled eggs can take on when made in restaurants like McDonalds.  Next, there were the hashbrowns.  Normally, I’m all about the crispy, triangular hashbrowns and don’t care much for the shaved-taters version.

A thing of beauty

A thing of beauty

However, I liked these better than how they’re normally prepared because they were squished into a thick potato-pancake of sorts that made them a lot easier to eat especially with a dollop of ketchup.  The white sausage was just ok.  It kind of had a hot dog flavor profile which didn’t really jive with the rest of the classic breakfast items.  It was like that guy who brings Zima to a house party.  True, it’s alcohol, but it should be at another party or perhaps another decade.  However, the breakfast sausage links and ham were delicious and were only further enhanced through the addition of maple syrup.  Nothing like a little liquid Canadian gold to make any breakfast better.  Finally, there were the pancakes.  I do have to say that Butterfinger Pancakes definitely lives up to their name with their mean flapjacks.  They were perfectly cooked to a golden brown hue and had fluffy white insides.  Taste-wise, they probably were some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had.  I think what separated them from other pancakes that I’ve downed before was that they possessed a unique buttery/vanilla aftertaste that took my palate off to Paul Bunyan’s lumberjack heaven.  Even though they were on the smaller side, they had enormous flavors.  When I finished, I was satisfied, but in retrospect, it wasn’t the best breakfast overall that I’ve had.  I think it was simply the fact that I haven’t had a normal American breakfast in so long that I really appreciated one when it came along.  The plate I ordered you could find anywhere in America, but this was a case of distance causing the stomach to grow fonder.

I'm so aegyo

I’m so aegyo

So if you are really hankering for some big breakfasts the way only the Stars and Stripes can do it, head on over the Butterfinger Pancakes in Gangnam.

A Nest Above the Rest

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What’s up, food lovers around the world?!  Another day, another post of delicious food.  Today I’ll be talking about Crow’s Nest which is a pizza joint located in the foreigner district of Seoul a.k.a. Itaewon.  It’s located at Yongsan-gu, Itaewon 1(il)-dong, 112-2, Seoul, and you first come out of Itaewon Station Exit #2. Turn at 1st left and turn at 1st right. It will be on your left side.  I had been invited out by my friend Stephanie to hear about all of my wonderful adventures in Taiwan and Hong Kong.  Naturally, I didn’t say no to trying a new pizza place since it’s one of my favorite foods.

When we got there, it was located on a new fashionable street off the main drag, but it’s located on the second floor.  I had reinjured my knee that day, so the stairs were a bit brutal.  No entrances for the handicapped in Korea for the most part.  When we eventually got to the the door, we were greeted with a large dining room and an open kitchen that was bustling with activity.  It was kind of neat with how you could see some employees throwing the pizza dough to the perfect size or laying out all the ingredients on top for each handmade pizza.  It was an honest display of craftsmanship.IMG_0991  We proceeded to the patio outside that was thankfully sheltered from the rain we just missed.  We ended up going for the half and half pizza (24,000 for 14 in. or 30,000 for 20 in.).  Some blogs say that you can do any of the pizza options, but our waitress emphatically told us you could only chose the following:  Italian sausage, margherita, pepperoni, Hawaiian.  Steph wanted the Hawaiian pizza which I think is an abomination, so I went with the Italian sausage on my half which I also appreciated that it had a mild or spicy option.  We got the 14 inch pizza which was more than enough when it came out to our table. IMG_0990 They also provided us with Parmesan cheese and spicy olive oil when we asked for it.  I didn’t try the Hawaiian side of the pizza, but mine was great especially with the powdered cheese and oil.  The crust was somewhat between the paper thin New York slice and the heartier Chicago “thin” crust pizza, but it was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  As for the ingredients on top, thankfully the sauce wasn’t Koreanized with the odd sweet tang, and the cheese was plentiful.  The spicy Italian sausage wasn’t quite as spicy as back home in Chicago, but it partnered the oregano and onions perfectly with its ever so wonderful greasy goodness.  We polished off the pie eventually but didn’t feel stuffed which is a testament to the light crust that didn’t crumble under the pressure of being faced with two hungry diners.

So if you want to check out a legit pizza parlor in Seoul and don’t feel like going to Monster Pizza in Hongdae, check out Crow’s Nest in Itaewon.

Pigging Out In Hongdae

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Hello and bonjour everybody!  The summer is slowly but surely floating along as I’m struggling to cope with this unbearable heatwave that has struck Korea.  Energy-draining and lung-flattening humidity aside, I finally managed to make it out to a new restaurant in Hongdae in Seoul.  Now, I’ve been perusing a food blog or two trying to find newly opened places or niche cuisine eateries, but my friend’s birthday party turned me on to a pretty standard restaurant with some offbeat choices.  I’m talking about Beale St.  located at 363-28 Seokyo Dong Mapo Gu.  It’s right next to Burger B, the original establishment we were going to check out.

Their sign is like the sun.  If you look directly at it, you will go blind.

Their sign is like the sun. If you look directly at it, you will go blind.

When I saw the name of the restaurant, Beale St., I was brought back to one of my most enjoyable vacations to Memphis, Tennessee.  I went with my family to Memphis to see Elvis’ Graceland and of course, taste that delicious barbecue.  Beale St. is the main thoroughfare in downtown Memphis.  Check out my other post that I wrote about another burger joint in Memphis with absolutely mammoth, mouth-watering onion rings (Click Here For The Post).   Naturally, I saw that the walls in Beale St. were festooned with various types of American kitsch like old gas advertisements, instruments, and even a Graceland sign.IMG_0651  Anyway, to the food.  Looking over the menu, I saw that they were staying true to Memphis’ barbecue legacy with a laundry list of classics like a half/full rack of ribs (23,000 W/43,000 W, respectively), burnt ends (16,000 W), and their chicken “boobs” (10,000 W) that apparently are bbq chicken breasts (tee hee, you so funny, Beale St.). They have a great beer and liquor selection that would be rare to find in other restaurants in Korea.  They also have the menu from Burger B next door, so you can order a burger like almost everyone else in my party group did.  I heard they were pretty good based off their reactions, but I went for two off-beat choices from Beale St.:  chicharron popcorn (4,000 W) and boudin (pronounced “boo-dahn”) ball (5,000 W).  They were both washed down with a heavenly vanilla-caramel milkshake (7,000 W).

First, there was the chicharron popcorn.  Most people know what popcorn is, but I’m pretty sure no one at my table knew what the slightly bizarre items were on top of the popcorn.  Growing up in the Chicago area where we have the 4th highest population of Mexicans in the USA, I was exposed at an early age to the different foods of that culture like chicharrones.  While the chicharrones may look like some sort of puffy rice cake, they are actually pieces of pork skin that are seasoned and deep fried in order to make a tough, inedible piece of the pig edible.  So when they came out, it was a basket of popcorn loaded to the top with chicharrones.

Porky popcorn pleasure

Porky popcorn pleasure

Normally when eating chicharrones, you’d like to put some hot chili sauce on them to give them a bit of a flaming zing, but Beale St. thought of that for me.  They managed to put a semi-sweet glaze over each curled piece, and then doused them with a perfect amount of dry chili rub.  The popcorn was prepared in the same fashion that really was a change of pace from your typical butter laden bucket you’d find at your local movie theatre or at home.  As for my other mini-entree, I was intrigued to see how they interpreted the Cajun boudin balls.  For those who don’t really know that much or anything about Cajun cooking, let me explain.  The Cajun culture arose from French-speaking Acadians who immigrated from Canada to what is modern day Louisiana in the USA back in the 1700s during French and British hostilities in the Seven Years War.  The Acadians created their own ethnic and cultural enclave that has left an indelible mark on Louisiana especially on the music scene with zydeco, their own variety of French still spoken today, and especially the food realm with their rustic French inspired dishes.  This leads me to what boudin is.  It’s a pork sausage that can be made with blood (boudin rouge) or without (boudin blanc) and stuffed with ground pork, Cajun spices, and dirty rice (Cajun rice cooked with pieces of liver and gizzards).  The balls, however, were made by rolling this filling into small spheres and deep frying them.  Given this explanation, I was a bit confused that they had Cajun food like gumbo, jambalaya, and boudin in a restaurant focused on cuisine from Tennessee.  Maybe they mixed up Memphis’ Beale St. with New Orleans’ Bourbon St..  Either way, I was satisfied even though the balls really could have been bigger for the price.IMG_0655  The bread crumb shell was a beautiful golden brown while the inside was a bit too mildly seasoned for proper Cajun cuisine, but they tried to make up for it by using a spicy Korean gochujang-based sauce that was drizzled over these tasty nuggets.  The overall quality of the rice and pork melange was superb though.  I assumed the Korean owners would get right these parts of the boudin right since they’re two staples of the Korean diet. IMG_0656 On the side, there was a lovely clover salad that was gingerly dressed in a sweet vinaigrette that provided a light balance to the dense, meaty richness of the boudin.  Finally, there was the milkshake…lord, the milkshake. IMG_0652 It was simple in presentation, but flavor-wise it was quite elaborate.  Whilst the buttercream element of the vanilla started off each sip, there would be a lightning bolt of sugary caramel that would flash across my palate and hit my pleasure zone every time. I would recommend this twist on an ice cream shop classic to anyone.

Overall, Beale St. has a slight identity crisis with the items on their menu, and they are a bit on the expensive side.  Regardless of the price, if you want well made burgers, barbecue, and Cajun cuisine, you will not be disappointed.  To quote the immortal Cookin’ Cajun, Justin Wilson, “I guarantee!“.

Achin’ For Some Bacon On A Lazy Sundae

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Hello everyone to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  In this installment, I am not going to review a restaurant (tear tear), but I am actually going to talk about a couple interesting little snacks/meals I’ve had over the past couple weeks in Korea.  First, there are the school lunches.

Where to begin with the school lunches?  From what I’ve heard from my orientation cohort, I think I got off pretty easy in terms of the variety and quality of food my school serves.  My favorite days are either tonkatsu or “breaded pork cutlet” day or curry day.  However, then there are days like when they serve a variety of cold seafood omelets where they try and see how many different types of mystery meat and tentacles they can fit in one pan.  Frankly, I’ve tried them all, and I’m not a huge fan.  One day, I even saw something that looked a bit familiar to me.  There was a pan filled with small, purple-ish/crimson colored disks.  Naturally, I scooped up a ladleful and put it in one of my tray compartments.

The sundae's in the upper right hand compartment

The sundae’s in the upper right hand compartment

I chopsticked one into my mouth, and I realized that it was 순대 or Sundae.  However, instead of a rich mix of vanilla, butterfat, and chocolate syrup, I was greeted with a semi-coppery flavor of blood sausage.  If odd textures disgust you, stay away from this sausage’s rubbery skin.  It was somewhat similar to the Polish kiszka, but the Korean blood sausage had noodles on the inside of it which kind of put me off of enjoying it more.  A more positive experience during school lunch was when they were serving stir fried baby squids.  Now, I’m not the biggest seafood fan in the world, but I’ve found after living in Korea that they make some mean squid dishes.  This meal was no different.

I love it when you can look your food in the eye

I love it when you can look your food in the eye

The baby squids were stir fried in a sweet, orange based glaze and were accompanied by dried squid jerky on the side.  I personally preferred the stir fried squids because the sauce really made the savory essence of the seafood pop, and the squid jerky wasn’t as good as the barbecue squid jerky they served on a separate occasion.  It was very dry and tough which made for an unpleasant eating experience.  Moving on from the more intense elements of my culinary journeys through Korea, lets talk about some junk food.

First, there was the discovery of bacon chips.  Yes, bacon lovers in Korea rejoice.

You can never have enough bacon

You can never have enough bacon

There are chips that are literally shaped and flavored like bacon.  I originally found them at a rest stop on my way to go paragliding, and I definitely made the right choice.  The texture could be likened to a veggie chip, and it was strangely colored like a semi-raw piece of bacon.  As for the taste, it actually tasted like eggs’ natural companion.  Not the most natural thing in the world, but I’m glad I tried it.  Moving from the good straight to the ugly, there is the Chicago Style pizza from Emart.  For those not living in Korea, Emart is basically a giant department store that sells everything you could ever need.  So some friends and I split the cost for a couple pizzas including one that was supposedly a “Chicago Deep Dish” style pizza.

Blasphemy incarnate

Blasphemy incarnate

When we opened up the box, it wasn’t the same as the genuine article back home aside from the crust.  That was the least of our problems.  The taste was terrible.  Do not buy this pizza from Emart.  Just get the regular 11,000 Won pizzas.  They are a much better deal.  Anyway, the taste to put it simply was everything that is wrong about Korean pizza.  First, I’m pretty sure they didn’t use real cheese since it tasted like we were eating sticks of non-salted butter.  On top of that, we were greeted with a lovely flavor wave of very sweet Korean pizza sauce.  I’m not sure if the pepperoni was real, but it was the only redeeming feature. In short, it was the perfect storm for a terrible pizza recipe.  Putting this unpleasantness behind us, lets talk about some sweet things.

I have spoken about my love for my Kindergarten classes before, but I might also be swayed by the fact that I get free food from the teachers every time I teach.  One of the best days was on Childrens’ Day because I got something that didn’t think existed:  Korean bakery.  Up to this point, I had been inundated with so many different types of tteok or “rice cake” that it would make your head spin, but today was a special day with special food.  On my tiny plate, they served me 소보로 빵 or Soboro Bbang which I could only describe as a type of peanut infused streusel bread.IMG_0091  The bread itself was light and airy which was complimented by the generous, peanut butter crumble topping.  It was like a messier and sweeter version of a peanut butter sandwich.  Not something I was really complaining about when I was siting at a table that was lower than my knees.  In more recent news, today I received another sweet treat from one of my coteachers that inspired me to write this post.  I don’t know what they’re called in Korean, but I’m going to call it a Yuja cookie.

Tasty tart

Tasty tart

Yuja is the Korean name for citron which is a fruit that is similar to a lemon.  I first tried the fruit in a traditional Korean drink, 유자차 or yujacha, and I was instantly hooked on  its sour and semi-bitter bite.  With the cookie, the bitterness of the jellied citron pieces was toned down to a certain extent, but it still blended perfectly with the buttery crust that was not too crumbly.  It was a pleasant surprise to start the week off right.  So that’s about it for now, but keep watching for my next post that will most likely be about the best fish and chips shop in Seoul.

If You Can Stand the Heat, Come Into This Kitchen

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Bonjou to everyone out there in the blogosphere!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues where I review restaurants and recount any funny/interesting happenings along the way.  Today I will be reviewing Heaven on Seven which is located at 224 S. Main Street, Naperville, IL 60540.

For those who have never heard of this establishment, it serves mainly creole/Cajun food.  What this means is that the food can be found mainly in/around New Orleans/Louisiana.  In every recipe you can see influences which reflect the diversity and history of the area from which this food comes.  In one dish, there can be Spanish spices, African vegetables, and it’s all prepared using French cooking techniques.  Another important element of Cajun cuisine the presence of extra spicy eats which I naturally gravitated to when looking over the menu.  When we first walked into the building, it seemed like it was Mardi Gras with streamers passing overhead throughout the entire dining room, and the entire wall of hot sauces let me know that I was in the right place.  There were also probably ten bottles of different hot sauces that ranged all the way from the more mild Tabasco sauce all the way to the colorfully named, “Ass in Space” among others…

They don't mince their words with hot sauces

They don’t mince their words with hot sauces

Along with the hot sauce bottles, we were also greeted with a free basket of sliced French bread.  It was fresh but not warm, but the accompanying spreads were both new to me.  One was honey butter which tasted like regular butter with a moderate sweet aftertaste, and the other spread was bean paste.  It was a fitting savory compliment to its sweet predecessor, but I didn’t care for it much.  The waitress also provided us with a side of free pickles with mustard seeds and onions.  I preferred this hybrid salad over the bread because the cucumbers were not completely pickled and interacted with the semi-bitter mustard seeds to create an almost sweet aftertaste.  It was a bizarre mix of textures and competing flavors that somehow worked.IMG_1088 We started the meal off with the Hot As A Mutha appetizer which consisted of a habanero chile stuffed with chihuahua cheese and surrounded by peach puree and peach salsa.  Personally, I didn’t think it was worth the money since they only give you one gigantic pepper, but the presentation was somewhat elegant as the diced peaches and light dusting of cayenne pepper on the plate offset the cumbersome-looking pepper in the middle of the display.  They didn’t pull any punches with the habanero since they left the seeds in the pepper, and the cheese was plentiful/tasty.  I also appreciated the integration of peaches with the habanero because they provided a cooling, sweet snap of the flavor whip to keep the roaring spiciness lioness at bay.IMG_1092

For my main entrée, I chose the Po’ Boy sandwich with the Angry Chicken option which came along with a cup of gumbo. IMG_1094 The gumbo was quite hearty and topped with a mini-mound of white rice that was steamed to perfection.  I never had an andouille gumbo, but this concoction was perfect with a dash of Tabasco Habanero since it really brought out the spiciness of the sausage.  IMG_1095As for my sandwich, it was kind of hard to actually eat as a sandwich because the contents were too overwhelming for the bread.  So, I had to cut the chicken into small pieces and use each piece of lightly toasted baguette as an individual sandwich.  As for its spiciness, I don’t know if my tastebuds are dead from so many years of eating really spicy food, but it really was not that spicy.  I even put on some extra hot sauce to give it a bigger kick, but I was disappointed in the spice factor.  However, the chicken breading was crunchy and had a great blend of savory spices.  The meat was succulent and plentiful.  The accompanying lettuce and tomatoes did not add much to the dish, and the latter were grainy.  I think this is due to them being out of season.  I finished with it quite quickly which shocked our waitress when I told her it wasn’t even spicy.  She looked a bit frightened and informed me of these spicy dinners they do for people who love spicy food.  Looks like I have another challenge on my hands for another day!

So if you’re looking for a little slice of the spicy, deep-fried Dirty South north of the Mason Dixon line, check out Heaven on Seven.

Heaven on Seven on Urbanspoon

Heaven On Seven in Naperville on Foodio54

Multum In Parvo

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Hello to all old and new readers of Mastication Monologues!  I have decided to write this blog entry before the overwhelming nature of graduate school manages to kick in and prevents me from even contemplating writing about a restaurant.  This past week has been quite busy gearing up for another semester, but along the way, I had a mini moving adventure with my friend David in downtown Chicago.  After a lot of heavy lifting and a frustrating episode with a U-Haul location on the northside, we finally decided we deserved a bite to eat.  We ended up going to an Italian restaurant called Quartino’s Ristorante and Wine Bar located at 626 North State Street,  Chicago, IL 60654.

My friend David said that I’d like the food since they serve Italian tapas.  Now, after living in Spain and being to Italy numerous times, I didn’t believe that they actually served tapas at an Italian restaurant.  Especially when all of the Italian food I’ve had throughout my life was more about abbondanza and someone telling you to “Mangia Mangia!”  instead of tiny/light portions.  I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the establishment.  We got there at 9 pm, and it was a madhouse with every table filled on the main floor and upstairs.  Obviously, this was a good sign.  So, we quickly got down to business and ordered our entrees:  polenta fries, quattro stagioni pizza, calamari, Tuscan sausage risotto, beef filets, and the organic veal skirt steak.

Fries that will cross your eyes

The polenta fries came out first in a small tin cup wrapped in wax paper that had print on it like newspaper.  This presentation gave it a more street food feel, but the taste was straight from nonna’s kitchen.  The outside breading was crisp and the inside was perfectly seasoned with a pinch of salt.  Thankfully it wasn’t polenta that was too goopy or too dry, but the red pepper sauce on the side was mediocre.  Next came the quattro stagioni pizza.

4 seasons of deliciousness.  Vivaldi would be proud.

It was a moderately sized pizza that had paper-thin, New York style crust that you have to fold in order to keep the toppings from falling all over your shirt.  On top was a thin layer of tomato sauce along with artichokes, roasted peppers, grilled zucchini, Portobello mushrooms, & Grana cheese.  This was probably one of the top dishes of the night (though pizza is one of my favorite foods) since all of the vegetables were fresh, especially the artichokes, and the Grana cheese was thinly sliced over the entirety of the pie which provided a salty kick to the smooth Mozzarella.  The only downside was the integrity of the crust.  The actual bread was delicious and the crunchy crust had a light layer of flour on it, but with every slice that we took, half of the toppings ended up on the pan.  Sorry NY, but I’m just drinking a lot of haterade when it comes to making pizza the right way.  Moving on from regional culinary conflicts, the calamari came out the same time as the pizza, and I wasn’t expecting much out of this dish since I’m not much of a seafood fan.

True fruits of the sea

Thankfully, these calamari rings were partially breaded which allowed the slightly firm squid to shine above the lemon zest, salt, crushed pepper, and buttery breading.  Next came the Tuscan sausage risotto and the beef filets.  With the former, it came out in a little Mount Vesuvius style mound of creamy rice, tomatoes, and peas.  The risotto was extremely rich and dotted with tomatoes that effortlessly blended in with the sauce, and the sausage was portioned out in mini-chunks and was doing a fennel based Tarantella  in my mouth with each bite.  As for the beef filets, they were small medallions of prime meat accompanied by broccoli rabe, red chilis, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil.  The red chilis and garlic mingled with the rabe on top of each slice of the meat like some type of verdant toupee but without any of the awkwardness.  The last plate, the veal skirt steak, was actually a replacement for the pork belly we  originally ordered since they had run out.  It was similar to the beef filets with being grilled to order but was then served with a side of wild Arugala, roasted grape tomatoes, and balsamic syrup.   The salad on the side with the tomatoes and syrup was an interesting mix because the bitterness of the Arugala was wonderfully complimented by dulcet/light undertones of the syrup.

By the end of the meal, I thought that this three-ring food circus was completely over, but my friend’s brother decided to order these Italian donuts called Zeppone.  When they came out, I was overwhelmed at the amount that they gave you for the price and awestruck at how delicious they looked.  They weren’t like the typical doughnuts with the hole in the middle but rather more like mini-Beignets which are served at the world-famous Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.  In addition to these tiny fried pillows of dough sleeping under a thick coating of powdered sugar, we got a dipping bowl of honey and one of chocolate.  These pastries were light, airy, and the chocolate went much better with the buttery dough than the thick and sultry honey.

Che bello!

So if you’re looking for a higher end Italian eatery with a twist on some traditional recipes and serving styles, check out Quartino’s Ristorante and Wine Bar!

Quartino on Urbanspoon

Quartino on Foodio54

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