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The Upper Crust

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Italy is a country known for many cultural exports that range from supercars, beautiful people, political corruption with a real flourish, and a culinary legacy without equal.  From my own backyard to the other side of the world, I have seen variations on some well known Italian specialties like pizza along with some new inventions like the Italian beef sandwich.  A new food superstore called Eataly arrived in Chicago a few years ago and is the figurative baby of famed, Croc-donning chef Mario Batali.  There are currently locations all over the world in Chicago, NYC, Japan, Istanbul, Dubai, and of course, Italy. I had previously spoken with friends and family about their experiences within the establishment, and I heard nothing but rave reviews.  After waiting way too long to finally see what all the hubbub was about, I finally made the trek with my lovely girlfriend, Janice.

It was overwhelming right from the beginning as we walked through the monstrously large glass doors. IMG_3569 Not only that, but Eataly was dedicated to the one and only Ernest Hemingway.  Apparently Papa spent a good amount of time in the Veneto region of Italy which is known for its bountiful food and drink.IMG_3586  Then again, it made me think of the litany of restaurants and watering holes throughout the world that try to cash in on Hemingway’s legacy. IMG_3572 Oh well, I don’t think Eataly was having many problems with business as hordes of people were streaming through the doors and buzzing about the interior as I looked in awe at the cathedral of food that towered before me.  Fresh plums and nectarines lay in front of me as we passed them to the escalator to start on the second floor.  We passed each section that was devoted to a certain part of the Italian culinary landscape like pasta, fish, fried food, bread, cheese, meat and wine.  IMG_3570It looked like all of the produce was kept to the first floor while the second floor was solely devoted to the restaurant portion of the store.  It was like an elite food court where you could go from counter to counter and pay for top notch service and foodstuffs, way too many to enumerate here.IMG_3571  So, I’ll just tell you about what Janice and I tried during our visit.  We settled on the popular pizza and pasta section of the second floor and were immediately seated in front of one of the expansive windows over looking Rush Street.  It was a perfect seat for our date, so hint hint to all you couples out there.10392551_10104334278063879_9013471860543625337_n10425370_10104334278323359_9161369142543183651_n  Our waiter was quite helpful in explaining the menu options while supplying us with complimentary pieces of bread and a plate of olive oil.IMG_3573  This definitely wasn’t Papa Joe’s in terms of the pre-meal munchies, but the bread was delicious.  The edges were crusty and crunchy, and the dough was pliable and had a slightly nutty flavor.  The olive oil was quite smooth on the palate.  I wish they brought out some balsamico as well.  After looking over the menu with lots of deliberation, we settled on sharing the Genovese pizza ($18).

According to the website, at Eataly they only utilize Neapolitan pizza making techniques that one can watch before it comes to the table.  We decided to take in the view instead before as our 12″ pie was delivered to our table. IMG_3574 Looking at it, it was more reminiscent of the pizzas I had in Italy or even New York.  Our waiter said that due to the delicate crust, it was recommended that we use knives and forks to consume the mouth-watering looking pieces.  So we naturally obliged, but we still thought you could eat it with your hands if you don’t feel like putting on airs.  Regardless of others perceptions, we tucked into our meal.  The dough was delicate but with plenty of artisanal flour flavor with a slightly buttery hint.  IMG_3578As for the toppings, there was a generous layer of mozzarella cheese across said crust and topped with a mix of the aforementioned olive oil, tidbits of salty and slightly fatty Parma ham, rich and zesty pine nut pesto, bits of aromatic basil, and diced garlic cloves.  All of these elements came together to make one of the best thin crust pizzas I’ve ever tried.  I normally don’t like crusts, but this pizza’s end pieces were light and chewy which I prefer over their crunch counterparts (this also applies to my cookie affinities).10464354_10104334278473059_7202246310904679489_n  Once we finished that, we moseyed down to the first floor for dessert at, where else?, the Nutella bar. IMG_3580 If you don’t know what Nutella is, it’s the choice snack spread of the gods.  While the British have marmite and Australians have vegemite, once again the Italians outcook them with this sweet, molto chocolately, hazelnut-based topping for bread, toast, and other items.  We could have gone for the gelato or candy counter, but the Nutella bar landed us with their large tubs of the dark chocolate nectar and circular griddles for nutella stuffed crepes.IMG_3581  They had a good amount of Nutella inspired items, but I knew what I wanted:  il bacio di dama ($4.80; literally:  the lady’s kiss).  Fitting for my date.  Janice got the saccottino con Nutella ($3.80).  When we got our individual noms, we couldn’t find a spot to sit down since it was so jammed, but luckily a guy who reminded me of Bill Cosby offered to scoot down so we could sit at the communal tables.  My plate consisted of two hazelnut cookies with a thin layer of Nutella in between. IMG_3584 From the first to last nibble, it was a flavorful pleasure like shifting through the gears on a Murcielago through the hills of Tuscany.  The cookies were soft, fresh, and nutty which balanced out the sweet innards. IMG_3585 As for Janice’s saccottino, it was a pastry made with croissant dough that had an extremely thick schmeer of the hazelnut topping that bordered on the obscene. IMG_3583 I’d recommend they cut down on the Nutella, or you get a drink to go with this dessert.  Perhaps that is all part of their scheme for you to buy more merchandise since half way through it it felt like I was eating a ball of glue coated in chocolate.  It was tasty nevertheless.

In summary, Eataly is a wonderful place for foodie and tourists alike, but it’s not the cheapest place in the world to experience all of Chicago’s culinary potential.  That is not to say though that you will be ripped off since everything is extremely high quality for the price.  I finally visited it, but I don’t know if it will be a regular haunt on my food list in Chicago.

Eataly on Urbanspoon

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Pie in the Sky Prices = Not So Apeeling

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Well, life just keeps on getting weirder and weirder in Korea, but I’m really looking forward to tomorrow since I’ll be gracing Everland for the first time.  For those who don’t know, Everland is basically South Korea’s response to Disney World, so I’m excited to see their take on the enchanted kingdom.  Anyway, I’m here to talk about the supposedly “Best pizza place in Seoul” a.k.a. the Pizza Peel.  Here’s all the location/hours info courtesy of their business card:

IMG_1036So there you go.  The directions are pretty straight forward:  leave Itaewon station exit 4 and walk straight for about 10 minutes.  Once you pass the McDonalds, look on your left hand side, and you’ll see an arch saying, “Alley Market”.  Walk under it, and you’ll see the Pizza Peel. IMG_1029 As I mentioned before, the reason that brought me here was that I heard it was the best pizza in Seoul, but then again, it seems that there are many contenders for that coveted crown.  So I had to check it out for myself.  The interior was modest but very busy with people enjoying their Hangul day off from work/school.  I greatly admired the establishment’s brick oven that seemed to be cut and pasted straight from a pizzeria back home, NYC, or Italy.

Mother of all pizzas

The hot momma of all pizzas

As my friend, Aaron, and I sat down, we perused the menu.  We could see that it wasn’t the cheapest pizza in the world as exemplified by their menu below (range from 14,000 W to 18,500 W):IMG_1037IMG_1038

To drink they also have soda and beer options that goes beyond the typical Korean trinity of Cafri, Cass, and Hite which was pretty great, but the non-Korean choices are in the same league as the pizza prices.  However, I figured the pizza was so expensive because of the ingredients you’d never find on Korea pizzas like Feta cheese, pesto, Ricotta, and artichokes to name a few.  I kind of wanted to eat them all, and I even considered one of their dessert pizzas.  Sadly, I’m not making Psy money teaching English. Eventually, I went for the Buffalo Ranch pizza  (18,500 W), and Aaron went for the Canadian (15,500 W).

It apologized for not smiling for my photo

It apologized for not smiling for my photo

Aaron’s pizza looked marvelous, and I learned that apparently in Canada they actually have their own “Canadian style” pizza which must have mushrooms, pepperoni, mozzarella, and bacon on it (not Canadian bacon though for the Hosers or peameal bacon for the Canucks).  As for my pizza, it looked delectable as well.  Size-wise, if you’re a big boy/eater like me or just really hungry, you can easily eat one of these pizzas by yourself which further underscores the somewhat inflated prices.  In comparison to the North American fatty alliance at our table, the Koreans  around us were splitting the small pies between two people.  Go figure. We quickly tore into our meals, and mine was interesting to say the least.IMG_1030  First, the crust.  It was definitely on the thin side, and I dare say thinner than NYC slices which are like delicious pieces of paper with cheese on it.  What this all meant was that each slice’s integrity was close to nothing, so you had to fold it in half and hope the piping hot toppings didn’t fall on your clothes/hand like some delectable napalm.  I’ll take my thicker Chicago thin crust, thank you.  On the other hand, the crust was expertly baked in just the right places with a golden hue and warm, white center to every crust.  As for the toppings, there was plenty of natural mozzarella cheese instead of the typical, artificial, rubbery cheese-flavored product the Koreans use on their pizzas.  The chicken chunks were well roasted and went well with the ranch dressing which was the substitute for the traditional marinara tomato sauce.    It was like gobbling down pizza and chicken fingers at the same time.  Ranch just goes so perfectly with both!  I didn’t really taste much of the Feta or the hot sauce, but I was satisfied with my choice nevertheless.

So after finally going to the supposed “Best pizza place” in Seoul, I’d have to disagree.  True, they have some rarer pizza ingredients along with a brick oven for that rustic touch, but I’d still take Monster Pizza over Pizza Peel.  You get one giant slice of quality pizza for only 3,000 W roughly, and a whole pizza from Monster Pizza could feed a small army for just a fraction of Pizza Peel’s prices.  Now that’s something a gourmand like me can sink his teeth into.

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