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San Diego (Day 1): I’m Going Back, Back To Cali (Yankee Pier, Lemonade)

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Time is fleeting.  Summer 2016 is flying by in the Chi per usual as kids are going back to school, and parents are happy the little monsters are out of their hair.  The last of the street festivals are attempting to be crammed into the few days of nice weather we have left before winter comes to our metropolis a la Game of Thrones (hopefully sans the army of the dead).  Luckily, I have another wonderful travelogue to bring a bit of sunshine to your day through the magic of our trip this summer to San Diego, California.

Janice had originally informed me of one of her child hood friends, Sabrina, was going to get married about a year ago, and when I finally found out where the wedding was going to be, I couldn’t be more excited.  It turned out it was going to be in San Diego, specifically Coronado Island.  The reason for my excitement was that I hadn’t been back to California in ages, and I was aching for some of that humidity-free fresh air and West coast sunshine, a definite change from this Chicago summer known more for humidity, heat, and destructive lighting storms. 21dbbc4ca53ea93620d40f5ea967b488c7fe99ae6f2b79b50d8f7ca5ab123e9d No wonder we Midwesterners are so tough.  Janice and I had an ungodly early flight, so by the time we reached our layover in San Francisco, another fun place to visit in California, we needed something to eat for breakfast beside the miniscule treats they handed out to placate us in the coach section.  As we strolled to our gate, we found a restaurant that seemed to be quite popular with our fellow travelers:  Yankee Pier.  They are a chain that has a stand alone location and another one in the San Francisco aiport, so they had a menu and service to compliment the need for people on the run.  However, this focus on culinary efficiency didn’t sacrifice the quality of the food.  I got some sort of Mexican omelet that was liberally garnished with cilantro and filled with peppers, chiles, potatoes, tomatoes, and avocado which was a major game changer.IMG_9601  With a couple splashes of Tabasco hot sauce, I turned this fiesta in my mouth from mas o menos to un bombazo!  There was plenty of flavor to savor in this omelet, and I’d recommend it if you like Mexican flavors in general.  It was so good I even caught Janice in the act of sneaking a bite or three from my plate. IMG_9603 Also, I really enjoyed their sourdough toast because it wasn’t very crispy and more on the chewy end.  Sourdough is actually part of San Francisco’s identity since it was brought to the state by French bakers in the 1840s during the famous gold rush, and Yankee Pier’s version of the iconic bread did not disappoint.  Overall, if you’re looking for a delicious meal that is also mindful of your travel time restrictions, I’d highly recommend Yankee Pier.  Once we downed our food, we were on a plane further south to San Diego.

Life is terrible

Life is terrible

Upon landing we were picked up by Janice’s friend Amber and another little companion I was not expecting.  I got in the back seat and was face to face with Ellie the Schnauzer.  She was such a good lil’ poochy, but she was ready to show us around the town with her owner.IMG_9774  Eventually, we found a place to park and walk around.IMG_9623 IMG_9610  Eventually, we had worked up a bit of an appetite, so Amber took us to one of her favorite local eateries:  Lemonade.  Apparently, it has locations all over the Golden State due to its popularity as a purveyor of healthy salads, sandwiches, and (not so healthy) sweets.  Oh yeah, and they do have their own homemade lemonades, of course! (Sorry, Beyonce fans).  IMG_9622 IMG_9621We didn’t know what to get because there was so much to choose from, IMG_9611 IMG_9612 IMG_9613IMG_9614 IMG_9615but we went with two of the cold salads:  the blt panzanella ($2.75) and the edamame salad ($2.50).  It was cafeteria style, so they scooped a generous helping of each on our plate as we slid down the line.  We also wanted to try one of the sandwiches and purchased the tomato and mozzarella ($6.95).   IMG_9616They also have a plethora of sinfully decadent looking desserts, but we did not give into them.  IMG_9617 IMG_9618 It was time to pay for our goods, and we had fun with the employees having samples of their lemonades behind the counter.  It’s not just your mother’s lemon and sugar based summer drink.  We tried the carrot ginger, hibiscus limeade, and blood orange lemonades.  The best part was that you could mix and match as many flavors as your thirsty heart desired at no extra charge.  In the end, we made a mix of the blood orange and the hibiscus tea.  IMG_9619 IMG_9776It resulted in a deep burgundy hued drink with a slightly tangy and almost cherry-esque tinged flavor profile that would cool us off after running around with Ellie the tour guide and Amber. IMG_9777 We took a seat on the patio in the front, and while the ladies were catching up, poochy was enjoying her time on my lap/losing her cool over my drink.

So calm

So calm

Maybe not

Maybe not

Eventually, we got to eating our salad and our freshly made sandwich.  The salads were fresh and light since we didn’t want to fill up before the rehearsal dinner for Sabrina’s wedding.  IMG_9620The edamame salad was seasoned with a vinaigrette and pepped up with pickled radishes, sesame seeds, and carrots.  I particularly enjoyed each firm bean imparting an earthy note to each forkful.  The panzanella was my choice (on the left), and is an antiquated recipe.  This Italian salad has been referenced in literature as early as the 16th century as a “salad of onions served with toast”.  While it has shifted in focus from onions as a base to tomatoes, it doesn’t take anything away from this hearty side dish.  This savory salad consisted of basically a BLT sandwich with arugula vinaigrette soaked pieces of bread, turkey bacon, avocado, and tomatoes.  It’s definitely a salad for those who don’t love traditional salads, i.e. healthy ones.  As for the sandwich, it wasn’t anything of note.  Yes, it was fresh and handmade, but I’ve had a caprese sandwich before. IMG_9781 I’d like to try one of their other more noteworthy creations the next time we’re in town.  Once we downed our amazing meal, we bade Amber and Ellie farewell (but not forever) and made our way to our airBnB.  We donned our finest duds and Uber-ed over to the picturesque Coronado golf club for the bride and groom’s rehearsal dinner. IMG_9782 While we were wasting time before everyone showed up, we played some Pokemon Go, and I got caught in the act. IMG_9783 Eventually, both families and their friends arrived, and we had to stop being antisocial.  It was a great night meeting Janice’s friends from long ago, the bride’s giant family, and eventually bonding with a good number of the younger folks of the wedding party going around catching Pokemon.  Also, the food and drink was phenomenal.  We went to the restaurant that catered the event on our last day, so I’ll save my review for that post.  It was such a great time overall, in fact, we stayed until the staff kicked us out of the clubhouse.  If this first day was any indication of how the rest of our visit in San Diego was going to transpire, I couldn’t wait for the big day tomorrow!  IMG_9784Stay tuned for part 2…

Yankee Pier Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lemonade Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Beijing (Day 3 and 4)- I Got a Black Magic Chicken

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For those who get the Santana reference in the title, you’re welcome.  To the rest of y’all, get ready for some more funky food that Beijing has to offer along with a couple normal plates for those who are a bit averse to the adventurous eating route I normally take.  First, there are the somewhat odd platters I sampled for a late lunch after returning from North Korea.  I was feeling full of life after a near brush with the North Korean authorities, so I felt like going for the gusto with my food and beverage choices.  First, I noticed that other people were drinking large carafes of a steaming white liquid, so I got one of those on the side to then accompany my black chicken and stuffed lotus root with sweet rice.  The random drink came out first along with a plate of sugar.IMG_1696  I first sampled the libation without the sugar, and it turned out to be very fresh soy milk with no sweetener.  Good think they gave me the sugar because there was no way I was going to drink all of it without a little some-something to boost the old flavor profile.  After a couple lumps, the milk tasted like a soy milk that is commercially sold in the USA with a bit more of a grassy taste to it.  Eventually, my black chicken and lotus root came out.IMG_1698  The biggest surprise for me that came with both of these dishes was the fact that they were both served cold.  Now, I don’t know if that’s how they’re traditionally served or if it was going in line with the Chinese medicinal concept that can be likened to the Western 4 humors concept in early medicine.  It is the same in Korea where many people believe that in order to keep your personal energy in line with the weather, you have to eat hot food when it hot outside and cold food for colder climes.  Doesn’t make sense to Western logic where one would imagine to eat warm food while it’s cold and cold food to cool off in the heat, but I’m not here to discuss medicine.  Food time.  So, first there was the black chicken.  When I say black chicken, I don’t mean it’s just blackened from a seasoning or charring.  The entire chicken, from its skin to its bones, is completely black compliments of selective breeding back in Ancient China.IMG_1699  They’re called Silkies, and Marco Polo even mentions the very same “furry chickens” in his travelogues.  Therefore, it was going back in a culinary time machine where I consumed a piece of the past, and it tasted like a heap of coriander with a hint of Sichuan pepper that numbed my tongue ever so slightly.  The downside of the preparation, as with many places in Asia, it was filled with tiny bones which took away from me actually enjoying what little meat there was on the beast.  However, I did enjoy it a lot more than my lotus root dish which also was served at room temperature.  Now, I love my fried lotus root, but this raw version did not sit well with me because of the limp texture and the odd, sweet ketchup-esque sauce. IMG_1697 It wasn’t a highlight on my visit to Beijing.  However, the following day was great in so many ways.  First, there was my visit to the breathtaking Great Wall of China at the Mutianyu section that was occasionally blighted by hawkers trying to sell you food, drinks, and terrible souvenirs.  This wasn’t even at the most touristy part of the wall!  After hiking for about three hours up and down some knee-crackingly high stairs, I zoomed down the mountain on a self-regulated toboggan which was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done in my life.  The lunch we had at the foot of the mountain really wasn’t anything of note, but the dinner I had after going to the national circus was noteworthy with how cheap and flavorful it was.  While I was trying to find a place open in my neighborhood by my hostel on a Sunday night, which was proving a bit harder to do than I thought, I stumbled on this 24 hour eatery (or at least that’s what I figured from the 24 on the sign).IMG_1713  I walked in much to the surprise of the staff, but I was quickly seated and supplied with a huge menu.  I’ve noticed all the menus in China have 10 billion things on them which is refreshing compared to Korea, yet so intimidating at the same time.  All I have to say is thank God for picture menus.  I ended up getting the pork stuffed green scallion pancakes along with the cumin seared beef.  For the equivalent of 10 bucks, I got a huge skillet of quality cuts of beef rubbed with a great chili and cumin rub all topped off with a huge mountain of cilantro. IMG_1709 The side of fried pancake was wonderful as well.IMG_1711  It was a bit greasy but not too much, and the minced pork mixed with the tangy green onions and pliable, golden brown dough was a combo made in heaven. IMG_1712 So those are some more notable eats I have sampled during my trip to Beijing, and I will be wrapping it up in the next post with my final day in the Chinese capital.  Until then, readers and eaters!

Drop It Like It’s Hot Pot! Part 1

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Hello everyone out there and happy new year!  Today’s post I will be doing something that is a bit different from the typical Mastication Monologues that you all know and love.  Instead of reviewing a restaurant, I will be talking about a certain type of cuisine that I have never had before but have always wanted to try:  hot pot.

Now I do love my Panda Express and other types of insanely Americanized Asian food including the ubiquitous fortune cookie and orange chicken, but I always have found authentic Chinese cuisine to be quite interesting in terms of how many different types of ingredients are used and variations there are on dishes depending on which city you are in.  Hot pot is no different.  To ring in 2013 right, my friend David invited me over to his family’s hot pot dinner, so I naturally was honored to be brought along for this culinary adventure.

My gracious hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Wu, and I

My gracious hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Wu, and I

I had already some basic background knowledge about this type of meal going into it, but I quickly found out that hot pot is much more complicated and nuanced than just sticking random vegetables and strips of meat into a boiling pot of water.  Before we even sat down, I was immediately faced with my first new snack of the evening, congealed roe with slices of daikon radish.  I’ve had daikon radish before from sushi platters, but I have never consumed fish eggs in any form.  Upon first glance, I was surprised that the roe looked like small woodchips instead of the more recognizable orange or black caviar pearls.  I ended up eating the roe on the radish like a slice of cheese on a Ritz cracker, and it was an interesting blend of textures and flavors.  Biting through the fish roe felt almost like eating a piece of hard cheese that had elements of beef jerky and smoked fish coursing throughout its semi-smooth interior, and the daikon left a light and crisp impression on my palate.  I helped myself to a couple more servings of this fish dish, but I was quickly whisked away to try a new drink.

The radish is part ninja blending into the top part of the plate

The radish is part ninja blending into the top part of the plate

Even though I had a Blue Moon in my hand, my friend David asked me if I’d like to try a homemade version of soy milk.  Naturally, I said, “Bring it on!”  He led me over to the kitchen where he poured out some pastel green liquid in a cup for me.  I had initially spied these containers of green goop thinking that it was going to be some sort of sauce for meat, but boy was I wrong.  So I took a sip of the soy milk, and it was quite thin in consistency with a mostly neutral taste and slightly grassy undertones.

Soy milk on the right, prawn paste on the right

Soy milk on the left, prawn paste on the right

However, David kicked it up a notch Ming Tsai style by adding some honey to this Chinese drink, and it made it taste sort of like milk with sugar in it.  Plus, the highly viscous honey added a bit more body to the beverage which made it more filling and complimented the spicy three-ring circus that was to come when we finally sat down for the actual hot pot where I managed to finally use chopsticks for an entire meal, eat Chinese pizza, and cheers to the new year…but you’ll have to wait for the next post to hear about the second part of this delectable dinner!

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