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those of you willing to stick with this "shipwreck", perhaps there will be a payoff someday that will make it all worth it. "God only knows."
First up is Cho Sun Ok - one of Chicago's first Korean restaurants.
It had been months since I last had any Korean food. Naturally, I craved it in a bad way. So on one Saturday during July, I made tracks for Chicago's K-town. (Well, Cho Sun Ok isn't actually in Koreatown: it's east of it, I think.)
(Don't be scared by the tattoed man. He's a pussycat.) I really liked the interior of the restaurant. Stepping inside, I felt like I was transported to another era - the Korea of yesteryear. There was wood paneling all around. The decor was so old school. It's a shame that they don't build Korean restaurants like Cho Sun Ok anymore.
What I ate:
1. Banchan. One of the best things about Korean cuisine definitely must be all the small plates that accompany every meal. There was all kinds of pickled vegetables, dotori mook (acorn jelly), a couple of potato preparations, and the requisite kimchi, of course (both baechu kimchi and yoolmoo mool kimchi). Oh, how I missed you kimchi! (Any questions about the banchan? Ask me in the comments section below!)
2. Chadol-Gui (24.95 USD): Sliced beef cooked on stone. The chadol was fresh - a healthy, bright red - and looked stunning on the serving plate. At first, I assumed the responsibility of table cook, but it was short lived: the ajumma serving us scolded me in regards to my apparent lack of skill and she manned the cooking stone.
3. Haemul-Pajeon (15.99 USD): Korean pancake with assorted seafood and green onions. This was my favorite item of the meal. In the pancake were squid and bits of shrimp. The pajeon was so good, everyone wanted more. If only we had more space in our stomachs!
4. Kimchi-Jjigae (7.95 USD): Kimchi stew with tofu and meat (pork) - hot and spicy. Ahh, I wish I had taken a photo before digging into it (see the after picture here)! The kimchi jjigae was delicious: it was just like the ones from home. You can't ask for anything more than that.
5. Mul-Naengmyun (7.95 USD): Buckwheat noodles in chilled beef broth. Is there a better dish to eat in the middle of a hot day? The mool naengmyun hit the spot - cold and vinegary. The beef broth had an oh-so-subtle flavor.
Towards the end of our meal, our server brought some rice and made us some bokkumbap. She started by plopping the rice onto the cooking stone that the chadol cooked on, then she grabbed what was left of the banchan and threw it in with the rice. It was a grand finish to our meal.
The Bill: Under 60 USD.
My Rating: out of four stars (good). Open Monday to Saturday, 10:30 AM to 10:30 PM. Open on Sunday, 10:30 AM to 10 PM. Credit cards accepted. www.chosunokrestaurant.com
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Later the same day, D, H, and I dropped by a sushiya/izakaya called OYSY (pronounced "oh-ee-she"), which is just off Michigan Avenue in Chicago's Near North Side.
Here's a picture of the dining room. Uh, nice creeper-stache, H!
What I ate:
1. I started off with a pair of Uni gunkan (sea urchin roe, 9 USD). I love the unctuous, rich, ocean flavor of uni. This wasn't the best I've had, but it was fresh enough and pleasant nevertheless.
2. Next up was the Chicago Crazy (10 USD): Tuna, salmon, red snapper, kani kama (imitation crab), masago, cucumber, lettuce, avocado. This roll was pretty humdrum. A big minus for me was the ridiculously obtrusive lettuce.
3. Green Turtle (12 USD): Eel, cucumber, eel sauce, wasabi mayo, wasabi tobiko, tempura crunch with shrimp outside. I didn't find the presentation all that amusing. In fact, I thought it detracted from whatever merits the roll had as food. This roll was just okay to eat.
4. Winter (10 USD): Smoked salmon, eel, masago, cream cheese, avocado, cucumber, spicy sauce, tempura crunch. Maybe our appetites were nonexistent at this point in the day: this roll was just okay as well. Nothing praiseworthy.
5. San Francisco (8 USD): Fried oyster, masago, avocado, cucumber, tonkatsu sauce. My buddy, D, had to order this roll because San Francisco, C-A is home for him. Actually, out of all the sushi we ate, I think the San Francisco roll was the best - well, the most interesting, anyway. It's probably because everything is better with oysters.
6. And last, Summer (9 USD): Tuna, masago, red snapper, cilantro, avocado, green pepper, chili oil, spicy sauce, lime juice. They were going for the flavors of Southeast Asia in this roll, but I don't think they pulled it off.
Can you tell? I didn't like OYSY much. Hospitality and service was meh (I remember we were seated next to a storage closet and I watched as the hostess and a co-worker horsed around and moved some stuff around noisily), and worse yet, the food was unremarkable and slightly pricey for what it was.
The Bill: About 60-65 USD.
My Rating: No star out of four stars (satisfactory). Call for hours of operation. Credit cards accepted. www.oysysushi.com
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During July, I tried to experience a little more of the real Chicago food scene by making a pilgrimage to Hot Doug's for an authentic Chicago hotdog. Unfortunately, I failed to check the hours of operation for the restaurant and I ended up trekking all the way there for nothing T_T What a dope, huh? I needed to soothe my dashed hopes and worn-out legs. On the way back to the train station, my rackmate, M, and I stopped at a restaurant I noticed earlier called Mr. Pollo for some "autentico pollo a la brasa".
What I ate:
1. Inca Kola (1.35 USD). I wish they sold this stuff at supermarkets everywhere so I could enjoy it more.
2. ½ Dinner Special (9.99 USD): ½ South American rotisserie chicken with two side orders. I got the fried yuca and black beans. The chicken was flavorful and juicy enough, but it needed more punch to it, more depth of flavor. All I could think of was the pollo a la brasa I had back in L.A.'s Koreatown (read about it here) and this chicken paled in comparison. I love fried yuca. It has a kind of yammy flavor to it that is wonderful. The meal included a chicken soup on the house, which was quite tasty actually.
It wasn't quite "autentico" at Mr. Pollo, but I'd eat here again.
The Bill: 12.47 USD.
My Rating: No star out of four stars (satisfactory). Open every day, 11:30 AM to 9 PM. Ellos aceptan Visa y MC. www.mrpollochicago.com
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The month of July also included a couple of special food events both on base and off base. First, there was Food Network Day at Galley 535.
Several Food Network chefs visited NAVSTA Great Lakes to cook breakfast and dinner for the sailors stationed there. I made sure to wake up early the day of the event (4:30 AM!) to have a caramel roll, quiche, bacon, and Cap'n Crunch-studded French Toast in order to start the day off right!
This breakfast was definitely a step above the normal fare they feed us at the galley. The Cap'n Crunch pain perdu was a real treat with fresh chantilly cream and fresh blueberries :d
Evening of the same day saw a menu that included a bomb chili, a good pulled pork sandwich, a memorable potato salad, seafood mac 'n' cheese, roasted corn, and homemade berry pie.
I liked it all except the mac 'n' cheese because they used the Kraft brand, which is good enough for the dorm room at college but not for the professional kitchen. Other than looking all messed up, the berry pie was outstanding. The crust was excellent and the berry filling was top notch.
The second food event in July was the 32nd annual Taste of Chicago. This year's event drew 1.2 MILLION attendees!
Look at me with all my tickets!
Taste of Chicago was set up in Chicago's Grant Park, next to Buckingham Fountain. Approximately forty restaurants and several big time culinary operations (Dominick's, Gallo) comprised this year's festival.
First, I stopped at The Noodle Vietnamese Restaurant's stall for some marinated beef on a stick:
It was a bit dry and the flavor needed to deliver more on the palate.
After the Vietnamese satay, I went to the stall opposite, to the Churro Factory, for some mini churros!
The mini churros were pretty good, considering that they weren't fried to order. I wish I had tried the full size churros that were fried to order and filled with different fillings.
Next was a Fire Grilled Steak Taco at Carbon Live Fire Mexican Grill:
So who's better? L.A. taco or Chicago taco? L.A. - BY FAR! Okay, so I'm a bit prejudiced here, but honestly, this taco just wasn't as good as the ones I've had back home.
Rib Tips at Robinson's No. 1 Ribs:
The meat was tough! I expected low-and-slow tenderness from the meat but nothing doing! The sauce didn't salvage much either. This was my least favorite item of the day.
As D and I were walking along, we saw this:
And immediately, we got some of this:
Grilled Slipper Tail Lobster with Garlic Potatoes. The lobster was pretty good. I could tell they were bathed in butter on the grill. On the other hand, the potatoes weren't so good. I looked and looked for the promised garlic flavor in the potatoes and never found any.
Phew, that afternoon was so hot! I remember it felt like I was sitting in a sauna! After all the walking around, I desperately needed to hydrate, to get something to drink. I stopped off at one of the tents selling booze and got a Chardonnay in a plastic cup (so classy):
Ugh! Gallo! It's fine to cook with but to drink? I knew better but I went ahead and got some anyway. The worst thing about the Gallo was that it was too warm.
One of the last things I ate, and a proper finish to all the gorging, was a Chicago dog from Gold Coast Dogs:
Now, this was the best item of the festival. Neon relish, poppy seed bun, tomato, and what snap! on that Vienna Beef hot dog!
All in all, I thought the Taste of Chicago could have been better, nevertheless, I was impressed by the scale and the attention that the event commanded.
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If I may say, so far I've found the food in Chicago as a whole needs a bit more punch to it, especially the food from around the world. This city does a few things well, like fine dining and items associated with Chicago, i.e., hot dogs. I find, however, that the day to day stuff and ethnic foods are way behind in caliber to my native home, L.A.
Last Word: Guess what? I probably have to do some more catching up in the next installment - Boo! Hiss! The good news is, I've got some real gems to share with you!
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