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Never a Boar in the Kitchen

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What’s up people?  The weather has been relatively all over the place for a Chicago summer, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t try some new and consistently delicious food.  Enter Andy’s Thai Kitchen that me and my girlfriend hit up for her gusband’s birthday.  I was not really super excited about getting Thai food since it just all seems like the same thing, similar to my thoughts about Vietnamese food, but Andy’s Thai Kitchen managed to change my mind.

Bday selfie!

Bday selfie!

While the weather was quite cold outside, the interior is very warm and welcoming.

When we left it was almost closing time

When we left it was almost closing time

Not only that, but the body heat from the masses of people waiting at the narrow vestibule made the experience seem all the more chaotic.  It could almost be an homage to the organized madness that is synonymous with Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok.  Chef Andy Aroourasameruang brings the unadulterated flavors of his home, Chachoengsao Province, to Chicago in the form of one of the most unique Thai menus I’ve seen in a long while.  IMG_6086I had never been there before, but all of my other diners had visited it before.  So, I let them order most of the food for our meal aside from my entree.  First, we started the meal with the som tum tod  or fried papaya salad ($12). IMG_6087 Unfortunately, this was during Lent, and I had given up all fried foods.  So, based on the reaction of my fellow diners digging into the colorful melange of deep fried papaya sticks, giant pink shrimp, cashews, tomatoes, and green beans, they loved all of it.  It was presented differently than other mango salads I’ve seen in Thai cuisine given that the mango was actually fried and not served in its original form.  I’d recommend it though since I ate the shrimp together with the veggies.  The spicy lime dressing gave it a perfect tangy/fiery zip to keep you coming back for more.  As for the entrees, I went with the ATK signature dish:  wild boar pad ped ($11).  Basically, it was a spicy red coconut curry that had “young pepper” (whatever that is), slow cooked and stir fried boar, and Thai eggplants.  IMG_6088The curry was very rich and flavorful with a potent kick, and there was a ton of tender boar that seemed like slightly gamier beef.  It should have been tougher, but the slow cooking made it fall apart in my mouth.  The Thai eggplants were a new addition to foods I’ve never tried before, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Even though they looked like tiny halves of lime in my curry, they added more of a half-crunchy, half creamy element to the softer parts of my meal.  The only downside was that I think that they could add a wider variety of vegetables to the sauce.  As for Janice, she got the basil crispy pork belly ($10.95) which was another ATK signature dish. IMG_6091 This one wasn’t as elaborate as my curry, but it still brought big flavors that Thai cuisine is known for.  It basically was rice served with a plentiful helping of stir fried pork pieces along with mushrooms, garlic, chili, and basil leaves.  It was good but not great.  The meat was the best part with its crispy outer layer that gave way to multiple alternating layers of fat and juicy pork, but it became somewhat monotonous according to Janice.  Thankfully, the food party didn’t stop there since there was still the matter of dessert.  While most of the options had a distinctly South/Southeast Asian flavor like the fried roti or banana blanket, we had to go with the customer pick, the mango sticky rice ($7).IMG_6093  I was surprised to see what it actually looked like when it came out.  After living in Korea, I was skeptical of desserts boasting, in my eyes, typically savory elements like rice or beans.  However, this dessert might have turned my head a bit with its fresh layer of sliced mangoes and generous helping of coconut milk. IMG_6094 It was like eating a Southeast Asian version of bread pudding with the rice taking the place of the flour based dough.  I highly recommend this sweet treat.

So if you’re looking for a restaurant that offers quality and unique Thai dishes, enjoy a great meal at Andy’s Thai Kitchen!IMG_6098

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Dude…Mellow Out…Try This ‘Shroom

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After a week of fun in sun in Florida, I’m finally back in Chicago to wait and see if I finally get a job that would really be great for my career as a language instructor.  However, in the meantime I would like to present you with a bunch of posts relating my crazy food adventures in the Sunshine State.  Today’s entry involves a popular destination in Delray Beach, FL that is as delicious as it is funky in nature, Mellow Mushroom.IMG_2778

I had originally read about it on Wikitravel as having very creative pizza creations, so that naturally whetted my appetite for adventure.  We visited the fungus-inspired eatery on our first day in Florida, and the weather was beautiful.  They don’t have a lot of parking aside from their crackerbox-sized lot behind their establishment, but luckily street parking is plentiful out front.IMG_2779  They have both indoor and outdoor seating, but we opted for the latter in order to enjoy the sublime sun and breeze.IMG_2792  As we were led through the restaurant, it had a very laid back vibe to it with lots of psychedelic artwork along with some very well known pop culture references I enjoyed.IMG_2791 IMG_2793IMG_2788  The artwork and name of the restaurant made me wonder if they had a secret menu of “special” munchies based on the surroundings along with a sign that said, “Hippies use the side entrance”.  Far out, man…would be a good way to describe their menu in regard to their prices.  It’s not the cheapest pizzeria you could visit, but they certainly do have creatively named and designed pies (From 10 inches to 16 inches; gluten free dough is available as well) as I mentioned earlier along with sandwiches, salads, calzones, and appetizers.  I started off with a brew that I picked solely based on the name:  Monk In the Trunk ($7).

Daaammnnnn shorty!

Daaammnnnn shorty!

Like its title, this ale had plenty of aftertaste flavor as spicy and malty sweet flavors had a twerk-fest on my palate much to my elation.IMG_2785  As for pizza, I had the option of creating my own, but I instead wanted to see what the cooks in the back could whip up to satisfy my soul.  There were plenty choices that looked scrumptious, and eventually I settled on the 14″ Thai Dye pizza ($20).  When it came out, I immediately felt the good vibes with how fresh it looked.IMG_2789  It wasn’t as hefty as Chicago pan pizza but not as floppy as NYC’s slices. IMG_2790 I loved the fresh cucumber slices and fresh basil on top since they were drizzled with a sweet chili sauce that left me with a smoldering kiss with each bite.  Taken as a whole, the staff managed to combine a Thai chicken curry dish with a traditional pizza in perfect harmony.  The chicken was groovy and not rubbery, and the curry spices jazzed up the cheese every so often.  Eventually, I reached the crust which was chewy with a slight crunchy crust on the outside.  The most peculiar part of the crust was that it had ever so subtle cinnamon notes that I noticed through the garlic butter that was brushed on before going into the oven.  I almost finished the entire meal, but I was all carbed out by the end and could go no further.

My date home.

My date home.

So if you’re looking for quality, creative, and crazy pizzas at slighty expensive prices, rock out at Mellow Mushroom.
Mellow Mushroom on Urbanspoon

My March Madness of Mastication and Moreish Morsels

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So today’s review is of an establishment with whom I have a bit of a history since I used to work for them.  The place in question is Stir Crazy Fresh Asian Grill, or just Stir Crazy for short.  They have branches all over the United States, but the one I went to is located at Oakbrook Mall in Illinois in the western suburbs of Chicago.  My history with them derives from a brief period of time where I worked for them as a host, so I’m quite well versed in their menu and their franchise in general.

First, Stir Crazy is a pan-Asian restaurant that offers dishes that are not quite as authentic to the actual cuisine of the nations they claim to represent (Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai), but they do have some creative entries like the plate I ordered.  Second, they are very  accommodating for any sort of dietary restrictions in terms of dieting customers, food allergies, and gluten-free sauces.  Finally, they have good service which my former fellow coworkers manage to bring to all of the customers who entered the doors even if they are being difficult.

Their menu contains many Asian restaurant classics like orange chicken, different kinds of fried rice, and even pho.  Plus, the name Stir Crazy comes from their signature “make-your-own” stir fry bar.  You can choose between this option or a classic sit-down meal, but with the former, you have the option of making your dish a bit healthier since you control everything that goes into your meal without any extra specifications.  It’s a very straight-forward process where you pick your meat or tofu and then rice, noodles, or no starch option.  After that, you go up to the vegetable and seasoning bar to fill up your bowl with various types of produce and sauces.  From there, it is fried up by the cooks in an open kitchen for all to watch, or you can sit down and have your food brought to you.  I forewent this option and instead ordered my favorite dish on the menu: Thai tacos ($15.25).  IMG_2503While tacos are normally synonymous with Mexican food, Stir Crazy has managed to combine a perfect fusion dish where they take the roti flatbread common to southern Asian cuisine and create tacos.  I ordered two beef and two chicken tacos, but there is also a tofu option for all those veggie heads out there.  It came with a side of fried rice that was rich but not too greasy.  I also enjoyed the broccoli pieces that pepped up an otherwise standard recipe.  I finished that off first before tucking into the tacos.  They came with a spoon of chili-infused mayo that I liberally showered upon the tacos, and I did not regret that decision at all.  These tacos had everything going for them with each bite.  From the sweet and savory sauce that enveloped the pieces of tender meat to the cool and crispy cucumber strings and crispy roti, I was loco for these tacos.  They were light but filling which checked all the boxes for this starving gourmand.

So if you’re looking for a good pan-Asian restaurant with some creative but slightly more expensive dishes, check out a Stir Crazy by you!

Stir Crazy Fresh Asian Grill on Urbanspoon

Thaied Me Over

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Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I’m bringing you a nice, little Thai eatery called altThai located in downtown Arlington Heights.IMG_2475

I was meeting two friends I lived with in Spain, so it was a bit of an adventure getting up there from my house.  Thankfully, there is a parking garage nearby as this restaurant doesn’t have a parking lot or street parking.  Upon entering the establishment, I noticed it was minimally furnished with Thai artifacts and painted with warm hues that reflected the amiability of the Thai people.  Little did I know that our waitress would be quite the opposite.  She immediately was hustling us to order drinks, so I went for a glass of pinot noir ($8) which was pedestrian.  I was somewhat disappointed with their wine menu as it was leaning heavily towards the white end of things, but I guess it makes sense in regard to a lot of the Thai fish dishes.  Eventually my friend Mita arrived, and we got chicken satay ($6) for an appetizer. IMG_2476 The all-white meat chicken skewers were quite good, and only improved with a peanut sauce that was equally nutty and sweet.  They went quickly as we transitioned to the main course.  I looked over the fried rice, curries, and specialty plates to eventually plump for a pineapple curry ($13).  I had the option of spice level (mild to very hot) along with a choice of roast duck or shrimp.  For my spice level, I picked very hot, and our Thai waitress hesitated while writing down my initial order.  She then warned me, “It’s not American spicy” to which I responded, “Bring it on!”.  It was a dance I’ve done many times sitting down to eat in any sort of ethnic eatery that prides itself in spicy food (read:  Mexican, Indian, Korean etc.).  Naturally, European cuisine and those from European stock are not known for being well acquainted for heavily seasoned and spiced food, but luckily I got a taste for fire from my dad.  Must be the hot Sicilian blood that doesn’t make the peppers seem too bad.  The bowl of steaming curry came out with a side of rice to possibly nullify the inferno to come.IMG_2477  It didn’t start off too well as I proceeded to scoop up what I thought was a cooked tomato slice, and it ended up being a cherry tomato that burst in my mouth like a shell full of napalm.  Even though my mouth was scalded, I sallied forth to actually try the curry once it cooled down.  I found large chunks of duck, green and red peppers, and an apricot yellow broth with specks of red floating on the surface like pieces of spicy algae.  It was a rich curry in the sense that I could taste the coconut milk with each spoonful, and the meat was very rich with an excellent fat to meat ratio.  As for the spiciness, it was roughly a jalapeno level.  Our waitress came by with a big smile seeing if my tongue was liquefied yet, and I informed her that it was barely even making me sweat.  Clearly they pulled punches for me even though I specified to have it as hot as possible.  She then offered more Thai chili peppers which I appreciated.  They came out quickly, and I proceeded to dump them all in my curry.  It ratcheted the heat index up from a 70 degree day to maybe a typical summer in Phoenix or the equivalent of a light habanero flavor.  I enjoyed the curry down to the last drop, and my waitress was so impressed that she didn’t charge me for my wine.  Lucky for me I have a lead stomach.  We finished our food and was once again hassled by our waitress to pay our bill as they were closing.  The owner though was quite cordial as he showered us with after dinner candies while walking out the door.

Overall, pushy service aside, I recommend altThai for a delicious dinner or lunch for a reasonable price.

altThai on Urbanspoon

Everybody Wang Thai Tonight!

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Hello to everyone out there!  Sorry I haven’t been posting recently, but school got quite hectic for awhile with midterms.  Plus, my social calendar has been keeping me quite busy.  Naturally, trying new restaurants falls under that area of my life, so today I’d like to tell you about Wang Thai.  Here is their very informative website.  To get there, you just have to go to the Itaewon station and go out exit 1.  Head straight for about ten minutes, and you’ll see a stairwell going up that has placards indicating Wang Thai is on the third floor along with the famous What the Book bookstore.  sub_contents

Now, I’ve had my fair share of Pad Thai, but I feel like it’s the of Thai equivalent of tacos for Mexican cuisine.  That one ubiquitous dish that can appeal to a wide variety of diners, but really isn’t the be all end all of what the country’s kitchens have to offer. Therefore, I was quite excited to delve deeper underneath the mysterious culinary waters of the land of smiles and sweets.  Looking over the menu, I could see that the Thai people love their chili peppers, both spicy and sweet, so it was pretty tough just trying to pick one meal.  Plus, if you’re a vegetarian, this would be a great place to go out to eat since a lot of Korean food really doesn’t comply with strict vegan guidelines.  However, I eventually settled on the nuea yang nam tok (17,000 W) along with a Thai iced tea on the side.  My friends’ choices came out quite quickly along with the iced teas, so we quickly pounced on the feast that lay before us.

First, there was the Thai iced tea (5,000 W).  I had heard stories from friends who have traveled to Thailand and Vietnam before about how the tea there was amazingly sweet, so I had to try it myself since I have quite a sweet tooth.IMG_1158  It was greatly satisfying as a cool, sweet drink to counter all of the bold flavors we quickly encountered in the dishes we ordered.  The key to the decadent taste was the hefty dose of condensed milk on the top that, when mixed with the deep brown chai, formed a drink that tasted like almost like chocolate milk but with an earthy tea aftertaste with every satisfying sip.  It was a good start to a great meal.  I then moved to try a bit of the som tam (14,000 W) which was a spicy green papaya salad.IMG_1157  It was a semi-bizarre melange of shaved papaya, dried shrimp, cherry tomatoes, peanuts, lime juice, bean sprouts, and chilies.  However, it was very refreshing appetizer since it was light thanks to the papaya and bean sprouts, and there were constantly shifting textures ranging from the taught skin of the tomatoes to the crunchy peanuts and crackling dried shrimp.  It was a mere prelude to the sensual adventure we were about to undertake. My nuea yang nam tok was a northern Thai specialty that consisted of grilled beef, chilies, lime juice, rice powder, and some fresh vegetables on the side.IMG_1159  Lord, I’ll take your name in vain because this dish was sooooo good.  I asked the waiter if they could make it spicier than normal, and the cooks didn’t disappoint me.  I used the fresh lettuce leaves to eat the beef and rice ssam bap (Korean wrap) style.IMG_1161  The crunchy, verdant cocoon gave way to a beautiful gastronomic butterfly.  It spread its wings starting with the pieces of tender, juicy beef that were slightly tangy thanks to the lime marinade and flew away when combined with the angry-looking, little black peppers that came in every bite.  The sprigs of cilantro were great additions to this already superb masterpiece.  I tried a little bit of my friends’ meals as well, and I found some of them to be more satisfying than I was anticipating.  Case and point, the poo pad pong garee (28,000 W) or sauteed crabs in curry sauce.IMG_1163  Although it looked kind of gross initially with my friend Chris likening the curry coated crabs to cooked tarantulas, I found these soft shelled crustaceans went wonderfully with the yellow, slightly sweet curry and chilies.  We also got the panaeng gai (15,000 W) or chicken in spicy red curry.IMG_1162It was swimming in said curry and all gussied up with kaffir lime leaves, red chilies, and green chilies.  What that resulted in was a lovely choice that had about a jalapeno level of spiciness which allowed the savory curry to shine with the succulent pieces of chicken.  By the end of the meal, I felt like I just had a food porn experience.  I was sweating, happy, and ready for a smoke (er, maybe not that last one haha).

So if you’re looking for some great Thai food that is filled with flames, flavor, and is fun to eat, check out Wang Thai in Itaewon.

Someone’s Using Their Noodle

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I am going to be talking about a restaurant that my Korean coteacher had been raving about for weeks to me that I should try since it had the best Pad Thai and noodle dishes in the world.  The place in question is called Noodle Box.  It’s a chain that can be found in Incheon and Seoul, but I went to the location in Itaewon since I couldn’t find the one in Bupyeong in Seoul.  Here is their website:  http://www.noodlebox.co.kr/noodlebox/.

So I found the one in Itaewon quite easily after walking straight out of exit three.  I was confronted with a sleek and minimalist exterior.IMG_1724  On the inside, it had the same theme with hard wood floors, stainless steel lunch counters, and slate walls.  For some reason it reminded me of a fancier version of Chipotle.  Anyway, I was looking at their menu, and I saw the famous Pad Thai that my coteacher had been yammering for ages about.  Then again, I want to try something that might be a hidden gem on the menu, so I got the Thai chili noodles (6,300 W).  My thirst for adventure was rectified by the end of the meal.IMG_0243 After giving my order to the cashier, I helped myself to some free, cold water which I definitely appreciated on a humid day like yesterday.  After about 5-7 minutes, I received my meal in a moderate sized box that ended up being jam-packed with flavor.IMG_0244

When I first opened it up, I was greeted with a thick layer of bean sprouts.

Sprouts on sprouts on sprouts

Sprouts on sprouts on sprouts

They were fresh and crispy, but I soon dove further beneath this superficial layer of cellulose to find the spicy noodles.  There were plenty of flat, stir-fried rice noodles that were bathing in a devilishly red chili sauce.

Cultural Note:  Even though it's a great pic, sticking chopsticks in food like this is considered impolite.

Cultural Note: Even though it’s a great pic, sticking chopsticks in food like this is considered impolite.

 I knew what I was getting into with the three peppers on the menu, and I was pleasantly surprised at the spice level.  I would liken it to a very mild habanero like bite.  The sauce itself was not overly sweet, and the individual ingredients that were lurking amongst the noodles intrigued me.  Just when I thought it was just bean sprouts and noodles, a couple of mushrooms would poke their chewy caps out of the carb laden forest, or some thin but large pieces of sauteed pork would saunter out to be enjoyed .  The pork was juicy and tender, and there were even mussels in the mix sans their signature black shells.  By the time I reached the bottom of the box, I was quite full and satisfied with my blazing noodles.

Remnants of a delicious meal

Remnants of a delicious meal

So if you’re looking for a quality restaurant that serves more than just japchae and naengmyeon, head on down to Noodle Box to get a little more flavor to savor.

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