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My Neighbor Tokoro

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Hello…helllooo..helloooooo….Is anyone still left out there that reads this blog?  It seriously has been way too long since I have posted any new content on Mastication Monologues, but such is the life of someone working on a 2nd Bachelor’s degree.  Thankfully, the light at the end of the tunnel is near, and I am looking forward to some mental rest and relaxation.  Thankfully, I won’t slack too much though because I have plenty of great reviews and food adventures to bring to you.  Today’s review involves Tokoro Sushi in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

My fiancee, then girlfriend, suggested we try the new eatery when it opened last year, and we have been back since.  However, our first visit wasn’t the most enjoyable compared to the second time.  There is mainly street parking and there are plenty of public transportation options for those of you rocking Ventra cards on the bus or L.  The interior of Tokoro looks like any other sushi restaurant complete with bamboo prints and assorted Japanese tchotchkes.  Fitting given the name of the restaurant in Japanese literally means “place”, i.e. this could be the interior of any of the other million, lower/middle rung Chicago sushi restaurants.  They have a BYOB policy and a free corkage service which helps if you care for a glass of chardonnay to go with your unagi.  Upon sitting down, we looked over their extensive sushi menu and saw most of the the typical Japanese restaurant offerings from lunch specials, soups, gyoza dumplings, sushi rolls, sashimi, and even hibachi offerings for diners searching for something a bit more substantial.  Janice and I preferred to try the figurative treasure chest of sushi that lay before  us in the menu, so we got the “all you can eat” sushi option for 20 bucks.  Some people always wonder or straight up deny that the all you can eat option is a waste of money, but when you think about it, there is some method to the madness.  Based on current trends of fishing, human consumption, and sushi demand from around the world, the price of fish, especially the fatty toro tuna, is only going to sky rocket.   Therefore, placing a cap on your wallet but not on your stomach makes perfect sense to me especially if you were as hungry as we were.  Then again, who knows if most sushi restaurants actually use the fish advertised on the menu.  The results are often times surprising.  Either way, that didn’t stop us from enjoying some good, not great sushi.  Thankfully, we got a complimentary bowl of miso soup which I think should come free with each meal in Japanese restaurants because it is such a simple but satisfying soup to make.  IMG_6101This traditional Japanese soup consists of a kelp/fish based broth and a soy based paste called, you guessed it, miso.  I have never seen it anywhere, but there are also red and mixed color miso pastes used in miso soup.  However, I greatly enjoy the white miso which is typically used in American Japanese restaurants because it is salty, savory, and has a taste that envelopes your entire body with a warmth that is enhanced with the soft cubes of tofu and slightly crunchy scallion strands.  Definitely great for the cold Chicago winters.  Once we drained our bowls, it was time to dive into our sushi.  Side note:  the service was absolutely terrible the first time around in terms of waiting for food, but thankfully they have improved their turnaround time from ordering to bringing out your order.  Our first platter consisted of the crazy tuna roll, spicy tuna roll, and mountain roll.IMG_6102

The crazy tuna roll, the one closest to the wasabi in the picture above, consisted of the rice rolled around a tuna and pepper mix and topped with slices of tuna and a sriracha chili sauce. IMG_6103 I didn’t find it to be too spicy, but it went down just fine.  The mountain roll was next which left the biggest impression on me for this round. IMG_6104 The inside was a cool cucumber and creamy avocado duo, but the real fire came from the spicy crab and spicy mayo on top that was festooned with a sprinkling of crunchy tempura crumbs.  I liked it the most out of the three selections due to the contrast between the relatively understated interior and the more eye-catching exterior.  Kind of a case of sushi superficiality, but this is a roll whose cover really makes the book a must read.  The same could not be said about the spicy tuna roll which was like the crazy tuna roll minus the “crazy” part. IMG_6105 I’m a big spicy food eater, and I didn’t think it lived up to its fiery moniker.  So it was not a big draw for me.  It was just a transition to the next sushi round we ordered.  We amped it up with a volcano roll, a kiss on fire roll, another mountain roll, and got some actual sushi on the side with a tomago, shrimp, and a piece of yellowtail.IMG_6106  I’ve already spoken about the mountain roll, but the volcano roll and kiss on fire roll were bolder than the first round participants.  The kiss on fire roll (between the raw fish and fried roll) did actually bring some spice since below the tuna there was a raw jalapeno pepper resting in wait for our unsuspecting taste buds.  I always like being kept off kilter sometimes during my dining experience, and I would recommend this roll for those who do like a bit of spice with their rolls.  Then there was the volcano roll.  Frying actual sushi is a crime against humanity, yet with rolls it kind of works.  The light, rice flour based batter goes well with the delicately constructed rolls, especially one that was bulging with spicy tuna, crab, avocado, cream cheese, and eel sauce and spicy mayo streaks across the sliced roll.  I think this was more of a luxury roll than a spice-centric entree due to the amount of ingredients that went into it.  I’d still recommend it though if you’re looking for a bit more heft to your typical sushi roll.  I did not have the tomago (egg) sushi, the shrimp, or the yellowfin, but Janice said they were all competently made but not mind-blowingly fresh/delicious.IMG_6107

So, if you’re looking for a solid, middle of the road sushi restaurant on the far northside of Chicago, roll on over to Sushi Tokoro!

Sushi Tokoro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Impressive Intragalactic Intercourse

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Welcome one and all to another fantastic chapter in the food epic that is Mastication Monologues!  Today’s entry is going to be a short one, but that doesn’t mean a lack of quality.  If you haven’t been reading, I’ve been reviewing various restaurants I’ve visited throughout my vacation to Delray Beach, Florida.  So far I’ve come mouth to burger, dog, and even mushroom.  However, this post is a definite shift as I move away from foods that might be considered classic Americana to more exotic meals.  So lets start with Lemongrass Asian Bistro, an upper echelon Asian eatery which has branches in other Atlantic coast Floridian cities.

After a filling lunch at Doc’s All American and an afternoon of scuba training, I wanted to have a light dinner that wouldn’t leave me bloated like a beached whale.  So, I decided that sushi would be something that would be rich, filling, yet light.  Lemongrass fit the bill.  The establishment has both indoor and outdoor seating, but I went for the latter since the weather, per usual, was quite pleasant. IMG_2873 I also love outdoor seating because it gives one ample opportunity for people watching as they pass by on the avenue.  While I was enjoying the sights and sounds of Delray Beach, I wasn’t too satisfied with the service.  I had to wait ten minutes for someone to welcome me and ask if I wanted anything to drink.  I know it is hard for the servers and kitchen staff when a restaurant is slammed (“filled to capacity” in customer speak), but Lemongrass at that time would hardly fall into that category.  Eventually I got a menu, and it seemed that they had specialties from mainly Japan with an extensive sushi menu, Thailand with a few satays and curries, and Vietnam with a plethora of stir fried noodle dishes.IMG_2868  However, I was surprised that their drink menu didn’t even offer plain sake given the litany of sushi meals they offer.  After a long time of contemplating between choosing the Vietnamese grilled pork and sushi, I got the Sex on the Moon sushi roll ($13) simply based on the name and spicy pepper next to the moniker.  After another long period of anticipation, my food eventually came out, and it was well worth the wait.  The presentation was interesting to say the least, but I personally think they went a bit overboard with the tempura bits sprinkled about the sushi roll. IMG_3945 It made it look like my food was swimming in sawdust, tasty, scallion-laced sawdust nevertheless. IMG_2869 I’m not quite certain why they call it “Sex on the Moon”, but I was over the moon after tasting it.  On the outside, there was a light sprinkling of the aforementioned tempura flakes, a moderately thick slab of raw tuna, and masago (Capelin fish roe).  The real magic of the meal resided within the snowy white nest of sticky rice where I was quickly introduced to the cordial and spicy family of fried shrimp, asparagus, avocado, eel, and pepper seeds.IMG_2870  While I naturally tasted the buttery shrimp and fiery pepper seeds, the other elements were not as individually impressive.  This meal was more of a team effort as the scallions enhanced the smooth avocado, and the asparagus provided a much needed crunch to balance the more delicate seafood ingredients like the fish eggs.  I spiced it up even further with the hefty dollop of wasabi they provided on the side, and that took it to another flavor galaxy.  By the end of Sex on the Moon, I was proverbially lighting up a smoke and lying back on my pillow with a sigh of satisfaction as I looked up to the stars in the Florida sky.

So if you’re willing to put up with slower than average service to experience some out of this world sushi, moonwalk on over the Lemongrass Asian Bistro.
Lemongrass Asian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tokyo (Day 1)- The Money Shot

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Well, back to Korea again after another wonderful adventure overseas.  This time it was to the Land of the Rising Sun a.k.a. Japan.  Now, I know Japan has left quite a Godzilla-sized cultural imprint on the world with technology, car manufacturing, and maddeningly-cute cartoons like Hello Kitty and Pokemon.  In these posts, like all the others, I will be showing you a gastronomical glimpse of the land that has brought sushi, tempura, and sake to a wider audience.  Naturally, there is much more to Japanese cuisine than just these three components, and I hope to demonstrate this through my Tokyo food series.

Day 1

After touching down in Narita, I was bracing myself for the train system which is the most complicated metro system I’ve encountered on my travels not due to its size but rather due to the number of private train companies that operate different lines which in turn affect fares, travel times, and how one manages to get from point A to point B based on which line and exit they take.  After a long time with the train info lady and making the sojourn to my hostel, I explored the neighborhood a little bit before heading back to my hostel to get some dinner ideas.  I talked to Hiromi at the front desk while showing her my handy-dandy personal guide I normally write up before I go places.  Thank you, Wikitravel!  I asked her about one restaurant, Torafugu Tei, and she immediately lit up with excitement.  It was probably because fugu is a Japanese deliciacy which involves making sushi out of an extremely poisonous blowfish.  Chefs have to have a special license in order to even serve the fish on the premises.   Roughly five people a year still die from this goofy-looking fish whose vital organs are deadlier than cyanide, and it’s the subject of one of my favorite Simpsons episodes where Homer thinks he’s going to die from ingesting improperly prepared fugu.  So I liked those odds for my first dinner in Tokyo.  Hiromi also recommended the sperm sacks which apparently were a winter specialty and her favorite part of the fugu since they tasted like cheese.  Turns out there are multiple locations in Tokyo, and I went to the one closest to my hostel located at 2-14-15 Nishi-Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo.  Mind you, they’re only open from 5 p.m. onwards. IMG_3305 I got a picture of the floating pufferfish, mouths still agape, while thinking this might be my last meal. IMG_3306 I’ve had it before during my trip to Busan in South Korea in soup form and survived, but this was raw fugu in the heartland of Japan.

Eventually I came in the restaurant behind some old Japanese businessmen, and the waitress thought I was with them for some bizarre reason.  She told me to take off my shoes, but as soon as the leader of the old men gave me the ‘What you doin’, gaijin?’ look, I was out of that room.  No one spoke English there, so it was just a humorous episode of confusion.  I was seated in a cosy wooden room, and I went for the fugu sashimi, the sperm sacks, and Hoshuku sake from the Nara prefecture served warm.  They brought out the sake first in a petite flask with an even tiner cup.  It was smaller than the cups I used to drink with my Kindergarteners.  However, it was a smooth, warm elixer with a bit of an acidic, alcohol-tinged bite to the end of each sip.  Eventually, my sashimi came out complete with a sumptuous presentation of each translucent slice arranged around sliced fugu skin, wasabi, green onions,  and a perrilla leaf. IMG_1767IMG_1768 The waitress motioned for me to squeeze the lime to coat all of the fugu pieces which I subsequently did.  She then imitated making mini fugu tacos and dipping them in the soy sauce on the side.  I summoned all of my chopstick skills which was a bit hard since the pieces were sticking to the plate and were extremely delicate.IMG_1769  Eventually I got the wee concoction into my mouth, and it was glorious.  The lime with the subtle richness of the fugu went well with the bolder wasabi and onions.  After eating most of the dish, I noticed my lips were slightly tingling which made me brace myself to hit the floor while being asphixiated, compliments of the poison, but it never happened.  The sake was also a nice palate cleanser to segue into the plat du jour:  the fugu sperm sacks.  IMG_1770They were served in a small porcelain bowl which I uncovered to find four golf ball-sized orbs that seem to have been roasted based on the char marks.IMG_1771  I decided to just take a bite out of one of them, and I was greeted with a piping hot stream of fugu semen.  Even though I was semi-injured due to my tongue being burned and quasi-violated based on what I was eating, I soldiered on after letting the sacks cool off.  I used the spoon that was provided to actually taste the semen, and strangely enough, like Hiromi told me before, it tasted like cheese.  I’d liken it to a cheddar flavor.  When the last drop of sake left the cup and my bowl was empty, I didn’t feel like I was full, but the meal amazingly kept me satiated for the rest of the night.  I guess the danger factor fed my adventurous soul along with my adventurous stomach.  I’d recommend it for anyone in Tokyo looking for a twist on your typical sushi experience.

Flick and Swish

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Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be talking about a Korean dish that is another adaptation of a “Japanese” dish:  shabu shabu.  First, even though everyone thinks that shabu shabu is Japanese, its roots stretch all the way back to Mongolia, and the meal was made popular in Japan after WWII.  Then Korea acquired it through Japanese occupation and made it their own.  Which brings me today when my principal and vice-principal treated all of the teachers to a celebratory dinner before the midterm exams at Yoree Shabu Shabu in Incheon.

I already knew that shabu shabu involved putting raw pieces of meat in boiling water, and then swishing them about to cook them.  Hence the name, “shabu shabu” which is supposed to be the onomatopoeic representation of the meat moving about in the bubbling cauldron of water.  So, when I sat down to enjoy the meal, I suddenly had a moment of deja-vu.

I think we've met before

I think we’ve met before.

Looking at the mini-mountain of beef bales and the steaming pot of broth, assorted greens, and enoki mushrooms, I was brought back to the Chinese/Taiwanese hot pot dinner at my friend David’s house (Part 1 and Part 2).  However, it was different because the broth was on the milder side instead of boasting bold Sichuan spices, and Yoree Shabu Shabu also allowed us to help ourselves to their buffet.  I’ll describe that later, but first, the shabu shabu.  Once I found some pieces of beef that were fully cooked, I gingerly took them out and placed them in the side dish of soy sauce, vinegar, and wasabi.

Yeah, I got a side of gummi bears with my shabu shabu.

Yeah…I got a side of gummi bears with my shabu shabu.

The meat was succulent and flavorful, but I personally wasn’t a fan of diluting the potent kick of the wasabi by putting it in the soy marinade.  I even noticed that there were a couple of pieces of orange squash that were bobbing about in the soup, but they didn’t have much flavor aside from the beef I was enjoying.  I did like the mushrooms and the greens though because they added some body to the meal, especially the kale leaves with their semi-bitter bite.   Shabu shabu aside, the buffet at Yoree was fantastic.  Not only did it have Western classics like bread that isn’t filled with sugar, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Caesar salads, but they even had pretzels filled with peanut butter and…gummi bears.  Yeah, I had to restrain myself from attacking the whole plate, but needless to say I was overjoyed at seeing gummi candy towards the end of the dessert table.  When I say “dessert” table, I just mean that there was fruit, not cake or anything like that.  They also had standard Korean dishes like different types of rice cake, apple salad, cucumber salad, and kimchi, per usual.

So overall, I had a great time at Yoree Shabu Shabu, and I recommend this place to anyone who wants to try a Korean twist on a Japanese classic or is missing some Western food but doesn’t want to go all the way to Itaewon to get some guilty pleasures.

Spice That’s Twice As Nice

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Hello everyone to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I will be highlighting an expat haven in Itaewon where one can  find Western quality breakfasts, burgers, and wings when they grow weary of the kimchi and non-existent Korean breakfast food.  I’m talking about Richard Copycat’s All American diner located at 56-13 Itaewon-dong Yongsan-gu Seoul South Korea.

Now, I do enjoy Korean food and trying new things, but it never hurts to go back to food that is familiar to you.  That what I was looking for when I walked into the diner, and I found it and then some.  They have a pretty extensive menu that is filled with familiar breakfast staples like French toast, omelets, and skillets.  Even though they boasted about the quality of their breakfast options in the menu, I was feeling like trying a burger since it was closer to lunch time.  I ended up choosing was the wasabi burger.  It had cheddar and pepper jack cheese, jalapenos, and a wasabi infused mayo.  Yeah, you read that right, Japanese horseradish and mayo together in one potentially overwhelming combination.IMG_1305

When it came out, I was bracing myself for Western portions, but it was Korean sized which kind of wasn’t worth the 14,000 won.  Plus, as most people have already commented before on the internet, the service at this restaurant is very slow.  If you ask them for a refill or for free pickles, they either take twice as long as they should or forget in regard to drink refills.  Qualms aside, it was a pretty funky burger in a good way.  The bun was buttery and held the sandwich together quite well even with the copious amounts of wasabi mayo applied to the bottom bun.  The beef patty was thick and succulent, but the cheddar cheese was pedestrian even though it was so unnaturally orange that it almost looked like I was eating a sunny-side up egg.  However, I greatly enjoyed the spicy elements of this burger.  The jalapenos were pickled like back home, and the wasabi mayo became more and more intense as I proceeded to munch on the burger.  It wasn’t too overpowering like eating a whole mini portion of the Japanese horseradish, but I did have that burning sensation behind my nose that could send any possible congestion packing.  The fries that came with it were average, but I preferred them since they were somewhat underdone and not very salted.  So overall, I would recommend this burger if you’re into trying spicy things and like wasabi.  They do manage to take very potent flavors and pack it into an easy to swallow package.  So if you’re in Itaewon and want a little taste of home while still maintaining a foot in the Far East, try the wasabi burger at the All American Diner.

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