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Getting Our Just Desserts

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Today’s post on Mastication Monologues is one of my sweetest and over the top posts I’ve ever written!  If you have a sweet tooth that borderlines on a diabetic condition like I do, then you’re going to love this entry.  Last weekend, Janice and I experienced the final part of my one year anniversary gift that she got for me:  two tickets to Chicago’s Dessert Fest.  What a sweetheart!

When we got to the venue, River North’s John Barleycorn and Moe’s Cantina, there was already a line out the door and an accompanying mob once we got inside.  Everywhere we looked, we could see plenty of delicious treats being enjoyed by the guests.  While we weren’t swayed by the sundae bar that seemed pretty weak for an epic event like this one, we were more interested in the cake table with desserts made from Fabiana’s Bakery.  Not only did it boast a wonderfully delicious, buttercream-coated, cyclops rainbow cake that won “Most Craveable Dessert”IMG_6451 but also a decadent chocolate ganache wedding cake served in plastic shotglasses.IMG_6452  We definitely got crunk on those nuggets of rich dark chocolate goodness.  We quickly moved our ways through the munching masses and were confronted with a barker of sorts who bellowed, “WHO WANTS FREE ICE CREAM?!!  THIS IS DESSERT FEST!!!!”  I didn’t know King Leonidas worked dessert fairs in his spare time. Naturally, Janice’s and my hands shot up because we’re all about the cold stuff.  He hooked us up with free Blue Bunny turtle bars that was a combo of pure vanilla ice cream coated in a crunchy milk chocolate shell with the occasional hunk of pecans and caramel.  IMG_6454Simply the best, bar none! 11188221_10105701925746959_7766073886550940910_n We managed to snag a sample of macarons from a table that was mobbed with people.  I snapped up a chocolate one and a passion fruit one while Janice got a raspberry one.  They were perfect from their semi-sticky middles to the airy yet firm cookies.

Chocolate and passion fruit macarons.

Chocolate and passion fruit macarons

I personally felt the raspberry combined with the chocolate one was the ideal combination, but the passion fruit was a bland letdown.  We made our way upstairs to the sun-splashed second floor of John Barleycorn where they were slinging champagne and white wine with banana creme pie samples. IMG_6457 I got a glass of bubbly while Janice and I shared a nibble looking out over the crowd by the bar while lounging on a leather couch.  The banana creme pie reminded us of a pina colada with a mix of coconut and cream, but the champagne made it even better.  We made our way down and over to Moe’s Cantina where an entire room was just waiting for me to be explored. IMG_6466Right by the entrance, they had an open kitchen where I saw cooks preparing some sort of cup dessert with cream.IMG_6459  I didn’t have time to spare.  I was on a mission.  I visited each booth and brought back my loot to our table.  What a spread we had once I was done doing my recon mission.IMG_6460  What we ended up with was a slice of Bar Louie’s chocolate cake, voted “Most Delicious Dessert”, but sadly we never tried it since we filled up on the following treats beforehand.  First, there was the Warm Belly Bakery entry that eventually was crowned the Chocolate Champion.IMG_6465  Its presentation left much to be desired, but the brown butter chocolate chip cookies with a salted hazelnut dark chocolate mousse and a raspberry accent was quite a combo.  The cookie seemed a bit undercooked but the rich buttery dough and sweet chocolate combined to perfection with the salty yet earthy mousse.  The raspberry reminded me of our earlier macaron experiment.  While the fruit and chocolate combo was seemingly going to rule the day, the mystery dessert I had witnessed a few minutes earlier ended up rocking my world.  Turns out it is a Mexican dessert from Moe’s Cantina called a crispy xango (pronounced “zan-go”with berries and cream.  IMG_6462What is consisted of was a deep fried tortilla, coated in cinnamon and sugar churro style, and filled with a berry infused cream.  Janice got even more of the lowdown from one the employees.  Turns out they import their tortillas from Nuevo Leon in Mexico, and the cream even had a slight Bailey’s infusion to the cream.  Deep fried treats and a boozy sweet element?  I’ll take it!  I spread the cream evenly over the crunchy and crumbly surface like butter, and it was an ideal combo of textures and flavors.  By the time we made our ways upstairs, we walked past Old Crow Smokehouse’s plethora of key lime pies, which were given the “Perfected Classic Award”.  IMG_6467IMG_6468We didn’t sample any, but we did get a taste of some after-dinner digestifs.  Digestif is a term from French that refers to a drink that supposedly aids digestion.  The ones we samples were of an Italian variety in the shape of an amaro and a limoncello.  The former is an herbal liqueur that is often consumed neat, and has roots in the 19th century often originating in pharmacies or monasteries.  The name “amaro” means “bitter” in Italian, and I could see why.Lucano  I could only liken the taste of it to a less syrupy/obnoxious Jaegermeister.  It was potent but bursting with anise, ginger, and licorice.  As for the limoncello that Janice tried, it is a very different digestif compared to the amaro.  First, it is a bright yellow that comes from the lemon zests (hence the name) that are used to make the alcohol.  Second, it is more regional in nature given that it is a mainly southern Italian drink.  The one we had came from the southeastern region of Italy called Abruzzo which is kind of close to the heel of the boot of the peninsula.  Tastewise, it cleansed the palate of all of the sugar we had previously consumed but also perked us up with a strong, lemon scented kick.  As we left the festival, it was like leaving some sort of wonderful, Willy Wonka-esque type of dream, but it was a great gift from my lovely girlfriend.  I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a good and calories-be-damned sort of time!11248149_10105702971601059_1612555248785757579_n

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Everything’s Coming Up Roses

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Well, the weeks in October are just flying by.  I can’t believe that October is almost finished, and Halloween is a week away.  My Game of Thrones costume idea has hit a snag, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out in time.  If not, I’m really in for a scare.  However, one eatery that is anything but scary is Rose Angelis in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago.10542851_686606968094365_102258942_n

Chicago has a mountain of Italian eateries that run the gamut from bare bones like Bombacigno’s to high end dining like at RPM, so choosing one is an easy task.  However, finding one with high quality food at low low prices is often times a difficult task.  Enter the aforementioned Rose Angelis.  I had never heard of this place before I was being whisked away to it with my girlfriend for her bday din din with her girlfriends.  The outside was simple yet elegant, and the inside was just the same.  As we walked through the establishment, it was furnished with paintings of Italian landscapes and small white lights.  The Christmas light motif was continued outside on the patio which set the scene for the perfect date night if you’re looking to do one next year (let’s be real, there’s nothing romantic about eating outside in the middle of a Chicago winter).  They were strewn overhead from one end to the other as we took in the atmosphere and the menu.  After ordering a bottle of rose and chianti, we got an order of antipasti in the form of the melanzane miniature alla parmigiana ($7.95) and the caprese roll. IMG_4229 The former translated to inglese is just eggplant Parmigiana or bascially baked slices of eggplant topped with marinara sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese.  While there was plenty to go around, I personally wasn’t wowed by this dish.  It was mostly well done aside from the eggplant which I thought was kind of on the mushy side instead of being firm yet tender. IMG_4230 I was more of a fan of the caprese roll since it combined fresh and slightly chewy buffalo mozzarella that then contained molto thin pieces of salty prosciutto and topped with basil leaves and a tart vinaigrette.  Then for my entree I ordered the pollo Florentino (chicken Florentine) ($19.95).  This dish was the embodiment of the abbondanza Italian food culture, i.e. lots of food=lots of love. IMG_4231 The two hulking panko-coated chicken breasts were napping on a puffy bed of risotto surrounded by semi-spicy marinara sauce.  When I cut into these giant piece of poultry, the provolone and spinach flowed forth like a rich artery-clogging river of deliciousness.IMG_4232  It was quite decadent, and if you aren’t super hungry, don’t expect to finish this meal in one sitting.  You will need a doggie bag…or two.  However, even though it was a giant plate, that doesn’t mean that the quality suffered.  The chicken was high quality and the risotto was delectable when combined with the marinara that had more of a smoky flavor than spicy.  As if that wasn’t enough, since it was my girlfriend’s birthday, they brought out a slice of cheesecake to celebrate.IMG_4234  I had a tiny forkful, but it was molto bene, i.e. just the right amount of creamy and cool cheese with crumbly but firm cinnamon infused crust.

In closing, Rose Angelis is one of those small Italian restaurants you’ve never heard of but with plenty of larger than life flavors and portions for great prices.  I highly recommend Rose Anglelis to anyone who loves Italian food and/or is looking for a romantic dinner date place.
Rose Angelis on Urbanspoon

Little Bucharest: All the Meat That’s Fit to Eat!

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Romania.  A linguistic anomaly in Eastern Europe along with mostly being known for gypsies and the Prince of the Night, Dracula.  However, a trip to Romania back when I was studying in Spain left me with a different impression of the nation.  It was a bit off the beaten path in terms of the tourist trails of Europe, but it had plenty of character, friendly people, and great food.  So, when my girlfriend said that she had a Groupon for a Romanian eatery in Chicago called Little Bucharest, I was more than excited.

It was a cold and rainy night, similar to the weather I experienced while traveling between Bucharest and Sighisoara, so I was having a serious case of deja vu minus the feral dogs running around in the street and the airport.  It had a charming exterior with a patio that obviously wasn’t being used that night along with a fountain.  IMG_4589IMG_4570IMG_4569Upon setting foot in the establishment, we were warmly welcomed by the staff and led quickly to a table.  IMG_4571The cheerful music and clean interior put me at ease since other Eastern European restaurants are a bit more rustic in terms of their setup.  To drink, Janice got a sweet red Romanian wine, and I got a beer from Timisoara.  It seems the alcohol content was a bit much for her along with its sugary aftertaste, but it was still enjoyable.  As for my beer, it was a light lager that could be comparable to Heineken.IMG_4574  We also destroyed a basket of fresh baked bread that wasn’t warm, but they said they baked it in the morning.  IMG_4573This definitely showed in the overall quality of the sliced loaf.  It was chewy but slightly crispy on the outside while the inside was fluffy and white.  We demolished it so fast that the owner came over to say that our healthy appetites for his bread were quite the compliment.  For our appetizer, we got an order of the Mititei ($10).  These little sausages were served with a side of salad, fried polenta, and mustard.IMG_4577  These chubby meat nuggets were quite heavenly and juicy with a heavy emphasis on the garlic, and it seemed to have more beef than pork in the meat blend that jived well with the sour mustard.    The fried polenta (corn meal) was warm but not piping hot.  It also had an enjoyable butter flavor that had overtones of French fries.  As for our entrees, Janice got the sarmale ($18) and I got the chicken paprikash ($20).  The sarmale are similar to Poland’s golabki or stuffed cabbage rolls.IMG_4580  These wee bundles were stewed in tomato sauce which led the cabbage to be extra soft but firm enough to keep all of the pork, ground beef, and rice from bursting forth.  It was a bit more sour than the Polish version of the dish, but it still had the Slavic heartiness common to both meals.  As for my meal, the chicken paprikash was essentially half a chicken in a paprika infused gravy along with green beans and pearl onions. IMG_4581 The sauce was the boss for this dish, and the chicken was falling off the bone.  Beware of the small bones in the chicken though!  For both the sarmale and chicken paprikash, there was mamaliga or soft polenta served on the side.  This was my favorite food I tried in Romania, and it was like going into a culinary time machine for me from the first bite.  IMG_4582From the smooth, golden polenta to the cool sour cream and strong Feta cheese, I was in heaven.  The only differences between Little Bucharest and the real Bucharest was that the mamaliga in the Motherland was served in a bowl and with a fried egg on top.  Aside from that, it was the perfect comfort food to combat the terrible weather outside.  I couldn’t finish my meal since my stomach was about to burst from all of the polenta and grilled meats, but I didn’t feel bloated like I did with other meals where I ate a lot.  At the end of the meal, we were walking out, and the owner wished us well and told us to check them out on Facebook.  I then told him that I write a food blog, and he was so overjoyed that he hugged me and gave me a bottle of Romanian dry red wine on the spot.IMG_4587  I’ve never experienced such generosity from a restaurant in Chicago or perhaps anywhere else in the world.  Thanks, Branko!

So in closing, we walked away from Little Bucharest greatly satisfied with the friendly service, great prices for huge portions of delicious Romanian fare, and a memory of one of my many distant travels around the world.  This is the real deal if you want to try Romanian food, and they even run their own limo service if you want to experience it in style.  IMG_4590
Little Bucharest Bistro on Urbanspoon

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

Teach Me How to Dougie

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Sometimes there are restaurants that achieve legendary status in cities across the world due to the novelty, quality, and/or overall service they provide year after year.  Chicago is definitely one of the most cutting edge cities in the food world due to the high presence of top chefs like Rick Bayless, Homaro Cantu, and Grant Achatz who is best known for Alinea, voted the top restaurant in the world.  However, that doesn’t mean that we also have restaurants that serve simple dishes that reflect the different ethnic neighborhoods throughout Chicago like all different types of Mexican food, Italian beef sandwiches, and Chicago hot dogs.  The last dish has a special place in the heart of many Chicagoans since we have our own unique way of serving it, i.e. NO KETCHUP!!!  Hot Doug’s, on the other hand, takes hot dogs to another universe with funky toppings and a reputation without equal in the city.  It was an adventure from the first minute Janice and I got there.

First, there was my failure with parallel parking.  We arrived there in the morning, and there already was a line that was forming down the block.  I don’t work well with an audience when it comes to pulling off this essential city parking move, and of course, I crashed and burned in front of everyone (Later that day I did it in two moves with no audience).  So, Janice did it for me in order for me to secure a place in the ever-expanding line.  I came out of my car to boos while she emerged from my car to rapturous applause.  We were celebrities!  Thus began our two hour wait…IMG_3417

While waiting in line, I heard people saying they were from all over the USA and even overseas and made it a point to visit Hot Doug’s during their stay in Chicago including a lovely couple in front of us from Seattle.  Perhaps it was the mind-blowing eats or the sad fact that Hot Doug’s is closing on October 3rd.  Either way, all of us were itching to stuff our pie-holes with the legendary tube steaks.  When the doors finally opened, we moved into the shade and were greeted with the aroma of charred meats from within.

I knew I liked this place.

I knew I liked this place.

IMG_3414 IMG_3413  Our mouths were watering as we endured the agonizing wait, but once we set foot inside, it was a colorful monument to all things hot dog.IMG_3453 IMG_3419IMG_3420 Their menu was a veritable who’s who of encased meats ranging from a classic hot dog to spicy andouille to even veggie links.  IMG_3418I didn’t know where to start since I wanted to try every single one, but unfortunately, I didn’t feel like breaking the bank or the integrity of my stomach.IMG_3421  Janice and I finally reached the counter and were greeted by the owner Doug Sohn, a charismatic owner who was also a soccer fan which further made me love the place.

Just gabbin about futbol

Just gabbin about futbol

We were on the same page about everything about the beautiful game and this World Cup, and this agreement extended to our orders.  Janice got the bacon and cheddar smoked elk sausage with smokey bacon sauce and white cheddar cheese curds ($9.00) while I went for the Sonoran Dog ($6.00) and the Foie Gras Dog ($10.00).  Since it was Saturday, we indulged in an order of duck fat fries ($4.00) which are only available on Fridays and Saturdays.  Once finding a seat, we soaked in the atmosphere as we looked at the walls which were festooned with all things sausage including a hilarious, doctored history of the hot dog.IMG_3454 IMG_3423IMG_3424  Surprisingly, our food popped out in no time, and I didn’t know where to begin first.  After a bit of deliberation and slight awe, I decided to go big with eating the foie gras first.  Foie gras has a controversial history given that the preparation involves force feeding geese to the point that their livers are engorged with fat and take on a buttery consistency.  In Chicago, there had been a ban imposed on the serving of foie gras based on its supposed barbaric treatment of the geese, and even the famous Charlie Trotter spoke out against the cruelty involved in the gourmet treat.  However, the ban was eventually lifted in Chicago in 2008.  Controversy aside, I was planning on stuffing myself like a goose on this sumptuous creation.  It’d be inhumane to let it go to waste.IMG_3427First, there were the disks of foie gras that were piled atop the duck sausage that was infused with a sweet French Bordeaux wine.  If that wasn’t enough, said foie gras was sprinkled with grains of fleur de sel or hand harvested sea salt.  The kicker was the black truffle aioli that was slathered from end to end.  Then there was the first bite.  IMG_3455The duck sausage was full of fatty goodness, but the foie gras definitely overshadowed it in a wave of creamy yet mind-numbingly rich flavor that wasn’t as gamey as I was anticipating.  The black truffles had a bit of an aromatic, slightly earthy taste, but I could mostly taste the foie gras which took away from the creation overall.  First world problems.  I know.  Moving on from that heart attack inducing dog, I said “Hola!” to the Sonoran dog.  It was a dish reminiscent of Anthony Bourdain’s foray into the slighty obscene and subtly sexual world of Colombian foot long hot dogs.  The toppings were extraordinary to say the least.IMG_3430  First, there was the char-grilled, jalapeño Polish sausage covered with an adequate schmeer of jalapeño mayonnaise.  With that foundation, somehow Hot Doug managed to also jam in a couple pieces of jalapeño bacon, pinto beans, tomatoes, and onions.  I’ll start off with what I didn’t like about this choice.  The onions.IMG_3456  I would normally never bad mouth the stinky little guys, but there were way too many pieces of the white, breath-ruining confetti atop my hot dog.  Everytime I took a bite, it was like Times Square on New Years Day.  White confetti was falling all over my hands and table, but I wasn’t Dick Clark and the calendar said otherwise.  Moving beyond the onion barrage, I relished (pun intended) the contrast of flavors and textures.  While the pinto beans were smooth and mild but not extra mushy, the mayo, sausage, and bacon all brought an adequate level of heat that made me plow through the dog with gusto.  The bacon also was crispy to counteract all of the softer aforementioned elements.  I took a bite of Janice’s bacon and cheddar elk sausage hot dog, and I loved it the most.  One thing that really set it apart was the charred flavor along with the natural casing that literally made each bite pop.IMG_3428  Plus, I love my cheese, so the curds were like cherries on a meaty sundae.  I’d definitely recommend this option.  Finally, there were the duck fat fries. IMG_3429 I originally thought they were going to have something drizzled on them like a poutine of sorts, but it was simply a mini-mountain of fried that were prepared in duck fat instead of corn oil.  The change made a world of difference as these fries lived up to the Yelpers’ hype since they had an almost buttery aftertaste that wasn’t impeded by a layer of salt like normal French fries.  This interesting flavor profile allowed them to be enjoyed alone or with a dollop of ketchup.

Long story short, I’d highly recommend visiting this Chicago eatery before it closes its doors in October.  Bring a chair, food, water, and plenty of patience, but the payoff is worth it!

Some very happy eaters

Some very happy eaters

Hot Doug's 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

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.

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