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Picking Up and Eating the Tab(erna)

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Hola a todos y bienvenidos a Mastication Monologues!  If you couldn’t tell, the flavor of today’s post is Spanish, and what a wonderful flavor that is.  Spain is known for many things:  sun, bullfights, and flamenco to name a few, but few may truly appreciate what a giant Spain is in the culinary world.  It seems like only recently that tapas have become truly popular in the United States, and we are feeling the full force of molecular gastronomy, a technique of manipulating the molecular composition of food and drink in order to render them in a different form, that was pioneered in Europe, first in France and then in Spain.  Two names of chefs/magicians that immediately spring to mind in regard to this food movement are Ferran Adrià, head of the famous but now defunct El Bulli, and José Andrés, restauranteur and one of Anthony Bourdain’s besties.

The real O.G.s

The real O.G.s

However, these giants of the food world would contend that what they do isn’t molecular gastronomy.  Tomato/tomahto.  These advanced ideas have made their way even to Chicago as found at Grant Achatz’s Alinea, widely considered the best restaurant in the world, or at the wildly innovative Moto which was owned by the late kitchen mad scientist, Homaro Cantu.  However, I’m not here to talk about molecular gastronomy but rather tapas.  I’ve had my fair share of tapas after living in Spain, and this has served as the measuring stick for all other taperías outside of the peninsula.  I’ve had some charming tapateos and others not so much, but I found La Taberna Tapas to be a perfect place to get some delicious finger food in the Chi.

Janice and I went here back in the winter wonderland half of this year to meet two of her friends from out of town, and it was a the perfect venue to do so.  The parking on the street is plentiful even though you have to pay for it.IMG_5682  The interior was dark but welcoming, and the live music started soon after we sat down.  IMG_5699 IMG_5698 IMG_5696Thankfully even though it was flamenco dancing and guitar, it wasn’t overwhelming like other restaurants that I’ve been to with live music acts.  IMG_5695I get that you’re enthusiastic about your craft, but there’s a fine line between passion and being obnoxious.  Tread lightly when I’m eating, brah.  Before I get to the foodstuffs, let me have a moment for the beers I tried.  Both of them came from the super verdant and Celtic influenced northwestern corner of Spain known as Galicia, and the Hijos de Rivera brewery that has been making these beers will be celebrating its 110 year anniversary.  Perhaps their longevity could be down to them keeping the operations 100 percent Spanish and keeping it in the family.  Who knows?  I have to say though that when living in Spain, I wasn’t too impressed overall with Spanish beers, but the Estrella Galicia ($5) IMG_5692had a lot more taste than the more grating on the palate Estrella Damm from Cataluña.  This brew from Hijos de Rivera was a slightly bitter lager that went down smooth and heightened the bold flavors of the tapas that were to make their appearance soon.  The Estrella Galicia wasn’t an upper echelon type of libation, but it’s just something refreshing to sip on.  The 1906 Reserva Especial ($5) from the gallego brewery was better since it poured with a good amount of head and had more notes of caramel and grass throughout each sip. IMG_5685 It was another solid, if not spectacular, Galician beer.  Anyway, now onto the good stuff:  the tapas!

First, we had the pinacho de pollo that consisted of grilled chicken breast, sauteed bell peppers and onions, and garnished with a basil aioli and pistashio pesto.  IMG_5683I would recommend this segundo plato since it is a bit more filling than the dainty plates that we followed this one up with.  Not only is it satisfying, but the ingredients are superb.  The succulent, pure white chicken was further amped up by the basil aioli and pesto.  These elements combined with the veggies made for a complete dish that also was quite easy on the eyes.  The torre de berenjena y tomate ($7) or tower of eggplant and tomato kind of fell flat in my mind and mouth.  IMG_5684It didn’t seem that spectacular with some mushy slices of eggplant in a pool of bland tomato sauce.  I’d skip this tapa unless you’re vegetarian.  Another tomato based tapa that I always enjoy, and it was no different here, was the queso de cabra ($7) or goat cheese.  IMG_5691It consists of is a chunk of goat cheese that is baked in a tomato basil sauce topped with truffle oil with a side of tomato and garlic rubbed pieces of toasted bread.  What more could you ask for?  Well, for one thing, I would suggest that they make it more even ratio of cheese to tomato sauce since I felt like we got cheated out of the earthy cheese that goes so perfectly with the seasoned and warm tomato sauce on the crusty bread.  On the plus side, we followed it up with two of my favorite tapas:  patatas bravas ($7) and dátiles con tocino ($7).  With the former, it is hands down my favorite tapa.  It’s nothing fancy since it just consists of cubed and fried potatoes and a paprika infused aioli.  So easy, yet never reproduced Stateside surprisingly.  This version of my favorite tapa was almost like what I inhaled back in Barcelona yet not.IMG_5686  The white sauce was more on the mild side, and the potatoes were also covered in a chunkier tomato sauce bordering on an Italian marinara.  As for the dátiles con tocino, they were the same like I´ve had before yet different.  IMG_5688These sweet and gooey chunks of heaven were put to bed with a crunchy snuggie of bacon, but I think the sweet sherry reduction was a bit too much a case of gilding the lily.  We weren´t only sampling creatures of the land but also the sea.  The script flipped when they brought out our pulpo a la plancha or grilled octopus ($9).IMG_5690  This was another salute to Galicia which is known for quality grilled octopus seasoned with paprika.  I didn’t taste much of the almond pesto, but the squirt of lemon over it with the herb coated potatoes made it a good mix of surf and tuber turf.  The final two tapas we had wouldn’t really be considered true tapas.  The pincho punta de res ($7) is a supposed to be an homage to Basque culinary traditions where the word actually comes from the Spanish “pinchar” meaning “to pierce”.  If you go to the Basque Country in northern Spain, you will notice that all of their “tapas” are actually pierced with toothpicks and not just served in a dish.  Therefore, I don’t understand how these pinchos are Moorish as indicated on La Taberna’s menu.  IMG_5693Origin’s aside, I thought these skewers were more like taking a page from the Brazilian steakhouse than a tapería, but this didn’t take away from the high quality of the peppered steak that was paired with a generous helping of tenderly caramelized onions and a cup of sinus clearing horseradish sauce.  Surprisingly, we still had a bit of room left at the end of the meal for another classic Spanish dish in the form of paella con pollo y conejo or paella with chicken and rabbit ($12).  The word “paella” comes from the Latin “patella” or Old French “paelle“, both of which mean “pan”.  The origin of the dish is a bit shrouded in mystery, but the most likely origin is from Valencia on the east coast of Spain during the reign of the Moors (8th Century-15th Century A.D.).  The Valencian people managed to use the old Roman irrigation systems to grow more rice which was brought to the peninsula by the Islamic rulers.  They then took the rice, local seafood, and cooked them together in a pan.  The popularity of the dish soon grew in the following centuries to other parts of Spain like Madrid where they added other types of meat, like the variety we ate at La Taberna, and eventually became world renowned.  I visited Valencia during my residence in Spain, and I got a tin of paella from the mercado central, and it was a jump up from La Taberna’s version.  La Taberna’s paella was good but not the best ever.  IMG_5694It was well made with plenty of peppers, peas, onions, and even a Latin American twist with chile de árbol that gave the meal a smoky undertone.  The smoke enhanced the chicken and rabbit, but these meat elements didn´t shine as much as the cooked veggies, in my opinion.  I´d still recommend this paella though if you´ve never had it before and want one of Spain´s signature meals.

So in closing, if you want to have a taste of Spain´s delights for a date night or just a fun night out of culture and culinary adventures, get down to La Taberna Tapas for a tapateo you won´t forget!

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Throwback Post: Chocolatería San Ginés in Madrid

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Bienvenidos y welcome to Mastication Monologues!  If you’re reading this, you’ve finally reached the end of my throwback Europe series.  We’re touching down in the heart of the Iberian peninsula in the ageless city of Madrid.

Home to the Spanish government and monarchy, Madrid is the imposing and more regal version of Spain’s more laid back second city, Barcelona.  Everywhere my friend Kevin and I turned, we were confronted with another piece of history.  Royal palace?  Check.1930504_1100433668123_5085_n  El Prado Art Museum?  Check.  El Parque de Buen Retiro?  Double check. 10400831_1100124860403_5015_n 10400831_1100124220387_9578_n 10400831_1100124380391_983_nI especially enjoyed the park because it offered a bit of relaxation in a city that is mostly business-minded.  Not only are there plenty of open lawns and large trees, but the main fountain in the middle of the park was the best because you can rent rowboats for an hourly fee.  It was nice to just sit on a bench and take in the more leisurely pace of life in Spain where families were out on paseos (after meal walks) and the old timers were arguing about the superiority of Los Colchoneros vs Los Merengues over some coffee.  One of the best places outside of the city that I’d recommend visiting is El Escorial. n1145100159_31215923_1194 It was commissioned by Felipe II to be a royal palace and a symbol of Catholic strength in the face of the rising wave of Protestantism.  The palace’s design is particularly interesting  since it was designed with a grid floor plan to pay homage to the red hot griddle that Saint Lawrence was burned to death on.  From the halls gilded with gold mined from New World mines to the exquisitely carved statues in the Court of Kings, it was a royal palace without equal.n1145100159_31215937_5529  While I did try some delicious tapas throughout my stay in the city, the star of the food show took the form of churros at Chocolatería San Ginés located at Pasadizo de San Gines, 5, 28013, Madrid.san-gines chocolateria-san-gines-_328091 What are churros?  Churros are basically pieces of fried dough that are often long and thin.  From there, chefs have given their own twist on them which have included:  plain, coated with cinnamon-sugar, coated in chocolate, coated in chocolate and filled with caramel, or coated in chocolate and filled with custard.  At Chocolatería San Ginés the churros are served plain with a cup of chocolate on the side for dipping. Chocolate_con_churros_-_San_Ginés_-_Madrid This churro shop has been open since 1894, and it has been a favorite hangout for night owls and club goers who want something sweet and greasy to fill them up before going home.  I just stumbled upon it through pure chance during a normal night after dinner, and I never forgot the first time I bit into one of the golden wands of magical fried dough.  They were substantial, light, and fresh out of the fryer.  I could have eaten them without the chocolate due to their subtle buttery base common to many fried dough treats, but the warm melted milk chocolate took this dessert to another level.  I was communing with San Lorenzo, San Gines, and the rest of the culinary saints by the end of the heavenly plate.  It was a perfect end to my visit to the Spanish capital, and a heavenly denouement to this throwback series.10400831_1100123420367_3194_n  I hope you enjoyed reading this European adventure as much as I had writing it.

Un Tapateo Muy Feo (A Very Ugly Tapas Dinner)

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Ever since living and studying in Barcelona during my undergrad years, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the peninsular nation.  I don’t know if it was the warm people (especially the andaluces), the lovely historical sights, or the fantastic food, but I miss living there.  Back in the States, I would always try to find new places to get tapas to see how they measured up to the ones back in Spain, and I was generally pleased  (See Tapa 1, 2, Patatas).  Perhaps when I’m finished with my time here in Korea, I might make a return to the land of jamon and Don Simon.  However, since I’m still in Korea, I thought I had found a slice of Espana in the form of Que Tal Tapas which is located in Bupyeong in Incheon.  In order to get there you have to go to Bupyeong Market exit 2 and walk for about ten minutes until you look down a side street on your left.  Here’s the front of the restaurant to get an idea of what to look out for:IMG_1310

So I had originally thought of going to this place for my birthday since I love Spanish food, but instead I ended up going to the wonderful Action Grill.  Therefore, I vowed to one day try this taperia before I left the Land of the Morning Calm.  I finally made the sojourn yesterday with a fellow KOTESOL member after attending the smallest teaching conference ever with a whopping total of three people including me.  The interior had some nice, kooky drawings along with various types Spanish paraphernalia hanging on the wall.  That’s about where everything “Spanish” about this place ended.  First, there was the menu.  It took me flipping through five pages of pizza, spaghetti, and risotto dishes to finally get to the tapas.  While Spain and Italy might occupy the same  language family and are both ballin’ peninsulas, a Spanish restaurant should not have more types of pizza than tapas.  I did see that they had paella as well, but it was well tucked away like the tapas.  The tapas that they offered ranged from 4,000-6,000 W, and they were quite uninspired creations.  Not only were they almost all seafood creations, but somehow bruschetta made it on the menu.  I sincerely hope they were referring to pan amb tomaquet or else the owners need a serious culinary geography lesson.   My friend and I decided to get the pizza set for 35,000 W which was a great deal since we got the following:  either a Margherita or verde pizza, two 4,000 W tapas, one 6,000 W tapa, and two drinks which could be soda, coffee, house wine, or an ade.  For our combo, we got the verde pizza, tortilla espanola, cooked mushrooms, roasted shrimp, and two glasses of the house wine.The first items that came out were the mushrooms along with the two glasses of wine.

IMG_1313  I found the wine to be quite pedestrian as it was of the dry red variety, but it was fine since the mushrooms were quite vivacious in terms of flavor.  They seemed to be sauteed with some type of beef stock infused with pepper and had a slight woody aftertaste.  IMG_1312These hongos were garnished with a fried egg on the side which they told us to dip the pieces into, and there were some fresh dandelion greens on top along with some savory purple olives I enjoyed.  Unfortunately, this was the only plate that wowed us, so it was somewhat depressing in hindsight to know that we reached the apex of the meal after one tapa.  After the mushrooms came my nemesis in Spanish cuisine:  la tortilla.  Now, when most people hear the word, “tortilla” they automatically think that I was just munching on some flatbread instead of making a taco like a normal person.  Of course I would hate it if I did that, but a tortilla in Spain is actually more like an omelet with potatoes inside.  When I lived in Barcelona, I thought it was flavorless and nothing special.  Que Tal tapas managed to recreate this signature blandness even more so by having a higher potato:egg ratio in comparison to the real thing.  IMG_1314Why they would serve us such a demure tasting plate after the bold mushrooms is beyond me.  The penultimate entry in this pageant of mediocrity was the grilled shrimp.  Here I was thinking, “Que bien!  Me encantan gambas al ajillo!” (Oh good!  I love grilled shrimp!), but I was in for a rude awakening. IMG_1315 While I admired their presentation, I don’t think I’ve ever consumed such terrible shrimp in my life.  Not only was the texture of the meat extremely chewy to an unsettling degree, but they had an almost chemical-esque flavor to them.  I tried another shrimp after the first just to see if I had picked a bad one.  Nope.  Basura (garbage).  As if this train wreck of a dinner couldn’t get any more interesting, they brought out our verde pizza.  I wondered what made it “verde” (green) when ordering it, and I could see it got its moniker from the mini-garden that was chilling out on top of the actual pizza.

Step 1:  Find out if you got a salad or a pizza.

Step 1: Find out if you got a salad or a pizza.

 Our waitress then said to us, “Roll” while gesticulating towards the pizza.  This was very disconcerting since I’ve never heard anyone tell me to roll my pizza.  I could see why she said this when I went for a piece.  It was incredibly thin, had no cheese, and was just mushrooms and the greens.

Step 2:  Attempt to find a method of eating said salad/pizza.

Step 2: Attempt to find a method of eating said salad/pizza.

 The only way you could eat it without getting half the contents on your pants was like a taco.  I know you fold NYC-style pizza in order to eat it better, but this pizza was just ridiculous.

Step 3:  Why?...Just why?

Step 3: Why?…Just why?

 The taste didn’t even justify its unique consumption style.  While I always appreciate an opportunity to up my fresh vegetable intake, the mushrooms were tasteless and the dough was a non-factor.  This pizza was the equivalent of “that” drunk person at the holiday office party.  The pizza looked like it would be a good time initially, but after spilling itself all over my hands and being really annoying to eat, I never wanted to see it again.

In the end, don’t go to Que Tal Tapas if you’re looking for a real tapas experience.  It’s the culinary equivalent of Don Quijote fighting the windmills.  It tries really hard but fails every time.

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

The Italian Job (in Sevilla)

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Bienvenidos or Welcome to part two of my Sevilla trip.  This post is a bit on the shorter end since it only involves a treat suitable after eating some of the delicious tapas described in my previous post.  I would like to tell you about my favorite gelato place in Sevilla and the locals swear by it having the best ice cream in the entire city.  They weren’t kidding.  It is called Heladería Rayas and is located at Calle Almirante Apodaca 1.  It is right before the Plaza de Encarnación which houses a spectacular sculpture that is called Las Setas (The Mushrooms) which you can also take an elevator to the top for spectacular views of the city.  Plus, it is outside of the touristy city center which allows you to spend time with the local populace.

The scene of the crime

I had passed by this heladería (ice cream shop) many times to and from the bus station, and it always seemed to be packed with people in the afternoon and night.  Finally, one day, while seeing the city with my friend Brittney, I decided to see what all of the hubbub was about and try some.   My first taste was a cup of the Sachertorte gelato.  For those who are unaware of what a Sachertorte is, it is the signature cake of the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, Austria.  I had a slice during a day trip to Vienna in 2009, and I was hooked.  Strangely enough, the gelato managed to capture the delicate chocolately goodness that I had originally tasted one humid summer’s day in Austria.  Not only was the typically rich but not overwhelming dark chocolate flavor there, but they managed to have the apricot jelly as well.  Plus, this flavor came with its own Rayas twist as they put in some raisins to add to the overall texture of the gelato.  Not only did Las Rayas nail the quality of the traditional of the Sachertorte, but they are very generous in terms of portions.  So I assure you that you will be getting your money’s worth.

The second time around, I ended up getting another cup of gelato, but I decided to be more daring and take advantage of their three flavor option that you can do when you buy a cone or cup.  I ended up getting the beso de mujer (woman’s kiss) and the quemesabe (roughly translated as the “whatever”).  With the former, I was expecting maybe just a peck on the cheek, but the flavor was more like a French kiss: intense, enjoyable, and left me all slobbery (great visual, I know).  It was a mix of milk chocolate and hazelnut cream and pieces of actual hazelnut.  If you love Nutella, this is the flavor for you.  As for the quemesabe, it was like a potpourri of different flavors with milk chocolate, cinnamon, and lemon cake pieces all jammed together in some sort of satisfying yet chaotic gelato paradise.  It was strange though how all of the elements seemed to maintain their own individual characters, especially the lemon cake pieces since they were light and airy instead of being crumbly or soggy.

Looks so messy but tastes so good

So if you’re ever in Sevilla and looking for a satisfying end to a meal or a tasty way to cool off while taking in the city, make your way down to Las Rayas Heladería.

Buen viaje!

Take a Look at These Patatas

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Hola a todos!  Welcome to another addition of Mastication Monologues, and I hope you are ready for an international recommendation.  This past Spring Break, I wanted to go on vacation somewhere overseas.  So I ended up planning a trip to southwestern Spain with my home base in Sevilla.  I had previously travelled to Andalucia when I was living in Barcelona, but this region called me back with its charm and all things people normally associate with Spain, i.e. flamenco, bull fighting, and soccer.  It was definitely different culturally and linguistically from Catalunya.  Today, I would like to talk about my experience at Cafe de Sevilla located on the corner of Paseo de Catalina de Ribera right next to the Jardines de Murillo (Murillo Gardens).

As I was exploring the city’s many different tourist stops like the Catedral de Sevilla and the Plaza de Toros, I was also on a hunt for my favorite tapa:  patatas bravas.  If you’ve never had them, they are kind of like the Spanish version of French fries.  They are diced and fried potatoes that are served often times with a mayonnaise-based sauce with some type of tomato element and black pepper.  However, here stateside I have yet to find a tapas restaurant able to recreate this seemingly simple dish.  I don’t know if they are trying to make it fancier for American diners, but I have seen some interesting variations.  Anyway, while I visited many different restaurants and cafes in Sevilla, I found that it was nearly impossible to find my patatas bravas on the menu when in Barcelona they were quite popular.  This all changed on a walk back to my hostel when I decided to go to a restaurant right by the Murillo Gardens.

Patatas on the left and the fried cheese from a previous meal (it’s delicious as well)

It has both al fresco and indoor dining.  For my last meal in Sevilla, I dined outside on the patio, and it has a classy ambiance with their wooden tables and canvas umbrellas.  It was a perfect night for a refreshing Cruzcampo (Sevillanos are more known for their beer than wine consumption strangely enough), a plate of patatas bravas, and bull tail.  I even had a funny interaction with the waitress because apparently I used the Spanish word for tail, “rabo”, that only old people in the country use instead of the more modern “cola”.  Once I established myself as being an old country bumpkin, I was excited for my last Sevillian meal.

The patatas and the bull tail came out at the same time with the bravas having a much more exquisite presentation than the no-nonsense approach to the bull tail.   The potatoes were perfectly fried with a slightly crunchy outside and soft, white interiors.  They were drizzled with the classic, only-in-Spain patata sauce which was a bit spicier than the other varieties I have tried in other cities in Spain.  However, these were special since they also came with blue cheese sauce that was not too overwhelming with the cheese chunks floating in it, and a spicy tomato sauce that may have had saffron in it as well.  As for the bull tail, it did not look like they just took a tail from a freshly killed bull in the plaza de toros and slapped it on a plate, but rather there were three moderately-sized hunks of meat served in a beef based gravy along with a side of potato wedges.

Un”bull”ievable (I just went there)

The meat itself was very tender, almost like brisket, and I didn’t even need a knife to cut any of it off the bones.  As for the gravy, it went very well with the meat since it seemed to have some spicy undertones to prevent this dish from being mediocre.  As for the potato wedges, they were thrown in with the gravy which I didn’t really care for since they ended up just disintegrating into the rest of the meal.  Nevertheless, it was quite filling, and I was thoroughly satisfied with my meal.

So the next time you are in Sevilla and want to try the best of something traditional or be a little more adventurous, the Cafe de Sevilla has a dish for everyone’s’ personal preferences.  However, this city has many great establishments to dine at in its tiny, winding streets, so follow the advice of a popular Spanish saying, “El perro que anda, hueso encuentra” (The dog that walks, finds the bone). This is only part one of two on places to go to eat in Sevilla.  Part two involves gelato, so get excited!

Tapa the Heap Parte 2: Le Denoument Délicieux

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Annnnd I’m back once again to pick up where I left off in this culinary cliffhanger of a blog entry.  Last time I started out talking about the overall nature of the tapas restaurant Meson Sabika, and what exactly tapas are to the world foodie community.  Now, I can finally get to the heart of the matter with the actual description of these lilliputian dishes that stand large on any dinner table.

I have had quite a few different types of tapas all over Spain from the ubiquitous pulpo gallego (Galician octopus) to the infernally chewy orejas de cerdo(pig ears)

Mmmm Tentacles

, but I can attest to Meson Sabika faithfully recreating these regional Spanish flavors stateside.  They serve both hot and cold tapas in typical Spanish fashion, so I’ll just comment on two hot tapas and two cold tapas to keep it short and sweet.  One of the cold tapas I’d recommend would be the rollito de buey (literally a “little ox roll”) which is absolutely sensational due to the fact that it uses a thinly sliced, succulent beef tenderloin wrapped around a mixture of blue cheese, dates, and Portobello mushrooms.  Now some would think that the addition of dates might turn some picky eaters off, but it provides a flourish of sweetness that nicely balances the earthy flavors of the mushroom, the acidic bite of the cheese, and the savory taste of the beef.  The second cold tapa I’d try again would be the patatas con alioli (potatoes with garlic and oil).  It’s a variant on your typical potato salad which utilizes the Catalan alioli mayonnaise that is molt creamy and packs quite a potent garlic punch.  However, I would not recommend this if you are on a very important date or business meeting since it can make your breath quite pungent depending on who’s making it that day so tread carefully (though if you love garlic as much as I do, it’s worth it everytime).

The duck but with pears, not apples

Definitely not the potato salad from your usual picnic

As for the hot tapas, it is a lot harder to just pick two  because they have greater variety and are quite more creative in terms of their presentation.  The first one you should order is the pato confitado (or duck confit for those who don’t habla español), but the name does not do this dish justice.  Although it is on the smaller size, like all the other tapas, it is a small leg of duck that has a very crunchy skin that leaves a sweet, smooth aftertaste on your tongue whilst the cinnamon apples provide a warm, contrasting texture to the duck skin.  Plus, there are mushrooms that are thrown in for good measure, but they really are not the highlight of this tapa.  As always, I saved the best for last with my number one tapa of all time:  patatas bravas.  This dish is quite possibly one of the simplest of tapas, but the one that I have seen the most variations of in terms of the preparation and taste ranging from bland, undercooked tubers to the perfectly fried potato cubes served with a side of peppery bravas sauce.  This aforementioned sauce, from what I have tasted in the states, has yet to be recreated with the same panache as they do in Spain, but thankfully Meson Sabika provides their own adequate touches to this fan favorite.  They dice up and fry fresh potatoes in a bowl while lightly covering them in a tomato based sauce that is not very spicy, and these potatoes are then covered with a generous helping of shredded Manchego cheese.

The Sauce is the Boss!

Even though this is not the traditional bravas I pine for, they are quite filling and the paprika in the sauce provides a punchy zing at the end of each bite that makes me always come back for more.

Overall, Meson Sabika provides a small slice of Spain in the Chicagoland area in the most elegant of settings.  The prices are decent, the food is fresh and delicious, and the atmosphere is ideal for any sort of occasion.  To close with two of my favorite Spanish sayings, I say hasta luego y ¡A beber y a tragar, que el mundo se va a acabar! (Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die!).

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Meson Sabika-Naperville on Foodio54

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