Day 332: The Man and the French Lessons, Part 4: Where I Ate; ‘Uniform’

Now comes the very very best part of this entire trip and really, the best highlights of them all. Montreal and Quebec have long been on the lists of go-to destinations for gourmands everywhere and for good reason. There is a very strong and established history and identity with traditional dishes, an exciting influx of new chefs with new ideas and new innovations, and a multiculturalism and diversity of cuisines and culinary adventurousness. Pair all of this with some of the best, freshest, and highest quality produce and meats, and you have a culinary hot spot. But you don’t have to take my word for it (though you really should). Here’s what my culinary (and lifestyle) idol, Anthony Bourdain, has to say about this city.

I had a light lunch on the train heading into Montreal my first day because I knew I was Kinka Izakayagoing to be feasting straight from the get-go. My first stop late night after checking into my hotel would be Kinka Izakaya, only a block away from my hotel. Coincidence? You should know me better by now. Their Montreal location is the newest of this Japanese bar food empire which started in Toronto and has since expanded to other parts of Canada, Tokyo, and with an anticipated addition in New York. I’ve been to the one in Toronto back when I was a poor and struggling college student, and now I was prepared to return with a vengeance, wreaking havoc on their menu. I started with a gallop. A pint of Sapporo to wash down marinated jellyfish, beef carpaccio, and seared salmon. Jellyfish is a popular dish in Asian restaurants, especially bars. The texture is firm but has a slight bouncy give to it, making it fun to eat. It is a bit bland, but takes on flavors incredibly well. In this instance it was marinated with soy sauce, sesame oil, and sweet sake. It has that satisfying crunch that most people crave when drinking,Kinka First Round and a slightly sweet but deep flavor from the sesame. The beef carpaccio is Wagyu beef slightly seared and then served with ponzu sauce, a light wasabi mayo, fried garlic chips, and daikon radish with green onion garnish. The meat was wonderfully tender with a strong beef flavor, expected of what is essentially beef sashimi. Swirling it a bit to pick up the complex salty sweetness of the ponzu really elevated the taste and the fried garlic and mayo rounded it out well. The vegetables even picked up some of that marinade and meat juices so I had no problems eating even the daikon. The seared salmon was served in the same ponzu, mayo, garlic combination as the beef though of course it had a completely different reaction. The salmon was super fresh and firm, with a great color and texture. The light sear on the outside and the still cool and raw center was a great contrast of texture, flavor, and temperature.

After the first round of dishes I was ready to really get into a party mood, so I ordered a 1st Flightflight of sake, rice wine from Japan. Kinka actually makes a house sake that was one of my favorites of the night. Crisp dry finish and a slightly sweet polished taste. Sake is categorized by how much of the rice grain is polished before the fermentation process. The more it is polished, the clearer the sake, and the more pronounced the flavor. But just like anything else, this is a game of preferences. Just because a sake is super polished (usually2nd Flight to around 50% of the original grain) doesn’t mean it is necessarily the best tasting. It’s all down to what you prefer, and the only way to figure that out is to try as much as you can! Over the course of the night I had two sake flights that helped me figure out my favorites. Kinka‘s original sake is highly recommended, as well as the Yawari which is a bit sweeter.

I drank because I ate, but now I have to eat because I just drank! It’s a vicious, wonderful Kinka Spicy Salmon.jpgcycle. So what better way to chase my sake flight and second beer than with another beer and more dishes? First I ordered their negitoro which, translated is literally ‘green onion’ (negi) with ‘tuna’ (toro). This is a popular sushi dish in many Japanese sushi bars, and Kinka turns it into more casual bar fare by serving it like a dip or make your own taco. The negitoro is finely minced Albacore tuna that is mixed together with some spicy mayo and plenty of green onions. You spoon a little (or aKinka Short Ribs lot, it’s your party) onto the nori seaweed sheets, dip it into the soy sauce, and enjoy the bite size morsels that pack plenty of flavor. Just the right amount of heat is balanced with the green onion and there is nothing quite like the texture of roasted seaweed to bring out the best in fresh fish. I also had kalbi, which is admittedly a bit more Korean than Japanese, but who is going to complain about grilled marinated beef short ribs? The marinade is sweet and salty and the ribs are grilled with just the right amount of char and smoky flavor. The rib meat is chewy and firm (though for Asians this is a good thing, as we enjoy a bit of bite to our Kinka Baked Oystermeat) but still yields well enough and peels right off the bone. It was also in the second round that I had the absolute highlight, must have, cannot be missed dish of all the Kinka establishments. You. Must. Have. Their. KAKIMAYO. ‘Kaki’ meaning ‘oyster’ and mayo. This is the BEST. Oh man. My mouth waters just thinking of it. Giant behemoth sized oysters are shucked and prepared with tiny button mushrooms, spinach, garlic, Japanese mayo, and cheese and then baked in the oven until the cheese is bubbling and and the oyster liqueur begins to simmer. The oysters themselves firm and plump up with a super concentrated flavor and that gratin like effect of the cheese and mushrooms makes this dish savory, salty perfection. Do. Not. Share. If you want this, and you’ll want this, get your own.

After this round I had another Sapporo and another sake flight, after which I was ready to wind down the night’s meal with juuust a few more dishes. Because it’s vacation, andKinka Kimchi Udon what do we have on vacation if not license to live in the excess of what we deny ourselves normally. I begin the end with some kimchi udon. A fusion dish of chewy, firm, broad Japanese udon noodles mixed with a combination of spicy cod roe and kimchi, Korean spicy pickled cabbage. After the super savoriness of the oysters, this spice, as well as the crunch of the cabbage, was most welcome. In Japanese restaurants, it is not taboo to slurp your noodles, though it isn’t exactly expected or a ‘compliment to the chef’ either, as some click bait travel articles might have you believe. It is simply the way of doing things. Kinka Kara AgeThe udon noodles are incredibly slick and smooth, and with the weight of the broad noodles and the length, they are particularly fun to slurp. In between noodles a bite of the spicy cod roe and kimchi will waken any dulled senses, and the green onion and nori strips serve as balanced accompaniment. No visit to a Japanese pub would be complete without some of the best fried foods to grace your cholesterol count. Japanese frying techniques have been elevated to art forms, from the world famous tempura, to the humble home style frying like ebi furai and kaki furai. First, karaage, fried chicken pieces served with a garlic mayo. You can see in the pic that these are not just some popcorn chicken to shake your fork at. These are giant pieces. Juicy thigh meat is cut up into sizable chunks and then fried with very little batter, so the skill of the person frying is important as there is no batter to shield the tender meat inside. Good karaage has a crispy exterior with a juicy tender interior. These pieces wereKinka Ebi Fry just like that. Some bits of skin perfectly fried crisp, juicy dark meat, and that Japanese mayo is like sweet golden nectar on EVERYTHING. If you have not ever known the joys of Japanese mayo, I feel for you. Kewpie Mayonnaise. Marvels of the modern world, get that delivered. The last dish I had was the ebi furai. A simpler, homier version of shrimp tempuraebi furai is battered deep fried shrimp with spicy mayo and served with fried shrimp crackers. I grew up with these crackers but for those who are not familiar, they are puffed up chips made with powdered shrimp that have a strong fishy taste. The ebi furai kept the shrimp inside juicy, tender, and plump and the fried breading had no excess oiliness or greasiness. A uniform texture with no overdone or underdone bits, perfect to be eaten tail and all. Oh yes, you have to eat the tail.

This was only my first night in the city, and honestly you would have thought I was in Tokyo. The entire environment and ambiance of Kinka Izakaya is incredible. You are greeted with the standard ‘Irasshaimase’ and a super attentive and cheerful staff. Orders are yelled out in Japanese and the open kitchen acknowledges in equally loud, forceful, and energetic cheers. Order a sake bomb and the staff lead you on a cheering ritual to drop shots of sake into a glass of beer. Great food, great staff, and an authentic and energetic environment really set the mood for a great trip. As I stumbled back to my hotel, full and happy, I knew this was going to be the beginning of a lifelong obsession and love with this city.

Day 332

Man: 299 Loneliness: 33

Day 153: The Man and the Way Back Home

It’s…good…to be back…I guess? Hahah.

Well actually I got back yesterday, but spent most of the day resting and bringing my BAC back to a reasonable and livable level.

Cold Winter.jpgThere are a few things I definitely missed though. I missed the biting cold. It was hard to register that it was December and only two weeks before Christmas when it was so warm in Cancun. Everywhere we went there were Christmas decorations and the staff even wore Santa hats and I couldn’t quite understand why until someone had to remind me it was Christmas season. I guess I’m just too accustomed to cold, wintry Christmases. And honestly, I wouldn’t have them any other way. So while my family lamented the weather, I was glad to be back where I could bundle up.

I also feel as though nothing really brings you back home like a warm shower in your own bathroom. As soon as I was unpacked the first thing I did was jump into the shower and savor the sensations. Mind you, I wasn’t exactly wanting for a nice shower either. The hotel had a rainfall shower which was just, oh man, so luxurious. But there’s just something about a shower you know how to use, settings you’re familiar with, just the right amount of water pressure, your own soap and shampoo, and the comfort of your own bathrobe and towel that just reminds you you’re home.

The flight to Cancun was uneventful, which is kind of what you want out of you know, flying 35,000 feet in the air. There’s really no love lost between myself and United. I don’t have much to say about whatever it is they do with themselves. But just about the only Stroopwafel.jpgthing I look forward to when it comes to early morning flights with United is that I get to have a delicious, chewy, sweet, stroopwafel. If you haven’t had these yet, just order them from Amazon or ask your friendly neighborhood Dutchman. It’s much easier to get than to fly United for it. They’re wonderful thin waffles with a spread of caramel sandwiched in between. At room temp they’re chewy and sweet but if you place it over your coffee or tea mug for a bit, the caramel melts and softens and the waffles become warm. About the only thing to do besides sleep is snack on a stroopwafel for the four hours until we landed in Cancun.

The Resort

beach-view

The resort itself was fantastic. Absolutely gorgeous. In the center of the main building was a Japanese style garden with koi ponds. This is where Toji, their sake bar, and Bana, their Japanese restaurant, are located. A beautiful and fitting centerpiece to their resort. The other restaurants surround Bana, with Market Grill outdoors. They have three pools: a quieter adults-only pool, a family pool that is shallower, and a long sprawling main pool with a swim-up bar and little islets with water jets. They have a long sprawling expanse of beach right outside the resort.

pool-and-swim-up

I’d wake up in the morning and then either order room service or stop by the breakfast buffet. A sausage, mushroom, and mozzarella omelet on my balcony overlooking the ocean. Or maybe mimosas at the breakfast buffet while I loaded up on waffles, smoked salmon, freshly made omelets, cheeses, bacon, and fruits. Then I’d spend the day taking a paddleboard or kayak out onto the water and riding the waves. The Caribbean Sea picks up a bit of temper by the time it hits Mexico so there was definitely some action in the water. Lunchtime I’d go to the poolside grill and grab my body weight in guacamole and pico de gallo, seafood ceviche, burgers, hot dogs, and chicken wings. Then I’d laze the afternoon away in the pool, swimming up to the bar and shamelessly sipping on Miami Vice after Miami Vice.

day-view

Dinners we were spoiled for choice. Our first night we went to the Market Grill which is styled like a Brazilian rodizio, with skewers of meat traveling from table to table. Sirloin, filet, chicken thigh, beef short ribs, picanha, round after round as they brought it to our table fresh from the grill and sliced it in front of us. For meat, Scotch is best, so Blood and Sands were the drink of order.

sashimi-and-sushi

On the second night we went to Bana, their Japanese restaurant in the center of the resort. Best location, excellent food, terrible lighting and hot. Still. Dock and avocado eggrolls. Seafood shumai. So many pieces of sushi and sashimi. Octopus, scallop, tuna, salmon, soft shell crab, eel. And lychee martinis! They also had the best dessert, fried banana tempura with a chocolate sauce and green tea ice cream and black tea ice cream.

blue-corn-sopes-with-shrimpOn the third night we went to Mole, which to be honest with you I had the least hopes for. It was Mexican modern, and I’m not a big fan of Mexican so  I wasn’t too sure I would enjoy it. But man was I wrong! For appetizer I ordered these little blue corn sopes with shrimp and spicy sauce and mixed greens. Wonderful bite sized amuse bouches. I went all out for the entree. Entrees actually! All-inclusive after all. I had a goat canneloni with a cream sauce. The goat was tender and flavorful with the earthy spices of Mexican cuisine goat-cannelonibut stuffed into wondefully al dente pasta sheets and served with a rich creamy sauce. I also had the pulpo (octopus) roasted with garlic. Just the right level of toothsomeness and char. Dessert was a tres leches cake that they finished table side by pouring a tiny pitcher of condensed milk over and watching the cake absorb it all was definitely entertaining before digging in. I definitely wanted an appropriate drink but wasn’t feeling like margaritas so instead had caipirinhas. The lime was refreshing and helped me power through all those courses!

roasted-garlic-octopus

Our final night we ate at Fuego, which is the Paradisus’s Peruvian inspired restaurant. I had the highest hopes for this. I love Peruvian food. Of course I had to start with a ceviche of crab and shrimp. Then a bowl of mixed grilled seafood including squid, octopus, shrimp, and scallops. Followed by the thickest, richest, creamiest version of lobster bisque I have ever had. Then a pan fried sirloin with mushroom risotto and a parmesan tuile and then a roast breast of duck with sweet potato puree. Still room for dessert and drinks! I had plenty of Pisco Sours to keep me company and finished with a coconut creme brulee served with almond liquer ice cream.

The food was great but the luxury of eating whenever and whatever was just so freeing. I still feel new and fresh to the all-inclusive experience so any opportunity to order a drink at a bar or some food was always taken. Late night my brother and I would order room service. Buffalo wings, omelets, cheesecake, nachos, burgers, hot dogs, our poor hotel staff having to keep lugging everything! Because of my connections with the travel company they placed us on the highest floor with the best view so they really had a trek each time.

paradisus-cancun-room

Of course we couldn’t spend the entire time eating! On our second day we took an ATV tour of the jungle and got to ride them on Maroma Beach, one of the world’s best beaches. The ATV tour was fun but not as thrilling or challenging as the ATV tour I did in Cabo where we were riding on and over sand dunes and drifting in the dessert and going up cliffs. But it was just challenging enough for my family and the rest of our group apparently! There was one couple who were riding together. We hadn’t even left the parking lot, just going single line heading out, when you see them riding top speed streaking across the line turning wide. I think the boyfriend didn’t know how much kick these machines had. They ran straight. Into. A palm tree. Knocked it right over and they got stuck over its dead body. Luckily it was a young tree whose roots weren’t so deep yet. Then, as we were riding along the road heading into the jungle, my parents missed the turn and were headed into the highway. Our guide races in front of them and tries to signal them to stop and turn but my mother, riding as passenger, thought he was just being friendly and told my father to smile and keep waving back.

night-view

We also visited Dubai Palace, Cancun’s largest and newest casino. Cancun just recently legalized casinos so the selection is pretty sparse, unlike Aruba or the Dominican Republic. Still we had a good time, and in fact my father and I won around $1200 Mexican pesos playing some card games. It’s not much, around $50USD, but to them it sure was a big deal!

It was a great trip, with just the right amount of relaxation and activity. Most of all it was great to spend some time with my family. We haven’t had a vacation all four of us in a long while. My brother and I had the VIP room since it was under my name and my parents stayed in another room a few floors below. Still we were always together, either at the beach or by the pool, and we always ate together, though my brother and I would also have our late night snacks! We would even play cards in our room and play penalty games to punish the losers. I think I most cherish though the ability to just go bar hopping with my brother and drinking together.

It was a fun time and I think my family is hooked on the all-inclusive now. I still have a few more free rewards nights to use so I anticipate we’ll be back next year! Maybe a different place in the Caribbean though.

Honestly I needed this after finishing NaNoWriMo, and it was a refreshing restart. Ready to get back into things though! Missed writing, missed this community, and ready to start up again!

Day 153

Man: 125 Loneliness: 28

 

 

 

Day 91 Supplemental: The Man and the Tuesday Tipple

National Vodka Day.png

Cheers! October 4 is National Vodka Day!

To be perfectly honest I’m a gin, bourbon, or scotch man myself but I would never pass on a good sip of vodka. Today there should be plenty of those going around as we celebrate National Vodka Day.

Vodka is so much more than just orange juice’s best friend. It is a versatile spirit with some incredible qualities and characteristics that make it great not only for mixed drinks but straight drinking as well. It is also currently the number 1 selling spirit in the United States, outpacing bourbon.

What I appreciate about good vodka is the agreeability of it as a drink. Good quality vodka really should taste of nothing, regardless of whether it was distilled from potato, wheat, or whatever else. It should be clean and crisp with little to no after-taste and no burn. (I repeat, this is the quality of good vodka.) The ethanol, gas-like taste that so many people associate with vodka is actually a sign of poor quality. Real vodka should not be so.

Because of its neutrality vodka is also a prime spirit for infusing flavors. If you think flavored vodkas is a modern invention made popular by sickeningly sweet cheap vodkas, you would be mistaken. Vodka has been infused and flavored for centuries. It is so easy for you to do this at home also. I personally carry a good quality lemon infused vodka in my home bar and when needed I will make personal small batches infused with things like cucumber, rosemary, or clove.

If you’re tired of martinis and screwdrivers, here are a few of my favorite vodka recipes to try either the next time you’re mixing drinks at home or at your next happy hour.

The Moscow Mule

Moscow Mule.jpgIt is very hard to mess up this drink so long as you follow two very important rules. 1. Be sure to use plenty of crushed ice and 2. find yourself a copper mug to serve it in.

2 oz vodka

Ginger beer

Lime (for juice and garnish)

Add vodka to the glass you’ll be drinking from and squeeze juice of half a lime. Fill partly with crushed ice and pour ginger beer. Top with more crushed ice and lime wheel.

The Lemon Drop

Lemon Drop.jpgWelcome to the grown up version of your favorite childhood candy. In a drink! Tart and sweet with a punch.

2 oz vodka

.5 oz triple sec

1 oz simpe syrup

1 oz fresh lemon juice

Sugar (for rimming)

Rub a lemon wedge along the rim of half of your glass. Dip and spin into the sugar and set aside to let the sugar set and dry. Add the remaining ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake. Strain into glass.

The Floral

Floral.jpgThis utilizes vodka’s ability to incorporate herbal notes without being overpowering.

1 sprig rosemary

2 sprigs thyme (plus one for garnish)

2 cucumber slices (plus one for garnish)

.75 oz lime juice

.75 oz simple syrup

                                                                               1.5 oz vodka

In a shaker muddle the rosemary, thyme, and cucumber with the simple syrup. Add the rest of the ingredients with ice and shake. Strain into glass and garnish with cucumber slice and thyme.

Most importantly while you enjoy your vodka don’t forget to cheer with the people you drink with. As Russia, Poland, and Sweden can convincingly claim to have invented vodka, cheer in all three!

In Russian

It is a common misconception that Russians cheer with ‘Nostrovia’. This is actually a mispronunciation of ‘Na Zdrovie’ which is used to thank someone for a meal or a drink. So let’s cheer properly. ‘Vashe zrodovye’ [vashee zda-ro-vye] is a more common phrase that means ‘your health’.

In Polish

‘Sto lat’ literally means ‘one hundred years’ and is used to toast to longevity and good fortune.

In Swedish

‘Skål’ is a Scandinavian word for ‘cheers’ but really originally meant ‘bowl’. As in, back when everyone would drink from the same vessel everyone would be calling out ‘skål’ for their turn to drink! Get in touch with your own viking roots today with this powerful drinking cheer.

And in the words of my ancestors, ‘mabuhay’! (To life)

Day 58: The Man and the Road; Chicago, IL

I’ve just finished a lovely meal here in Pittsburgh that I want to share with you all but before I do it has reminded me to bring you back in time to my first trip to Chicago. I had been meaning to write about this meal ever since I had it but right soon after was the craziness of retreat, meditation posts, weekend with friends, and busyness in Pittsburgh. There is some finally some quiet and peace in my life and so I’d like to revisit what I have to tell you all, with no exaggeration, was one of the best meals I have ever had. Chicago is now permanently engrained into my memory because of the fantastic food scene in the city and the gem that is…

Quartino in Chicago, IL.

Quartino is located three blocks off Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile, very close to the equally famous Pizzeria Uno, originator of the deep dish pizza. It is a two-storey building with seating on both levels and an outdoor patio. When I was there it was hustling and bustling and with the temperature not nearly cold enough, I opted for a seat inside. Eschewing my normal post at the bar I took a seat at a table in the main dining room.

Quartino Dining.jpg

I am a big proponent of the open kitchen. I think it allows diners to engage with their food long before it arrives at the table and I believe people should know more about their meals. A look, even a cursory glance, at the amount of skill and the techniques used to coax out every incredible flavor heightens your awareness of the dish and informs your senses in a very tangible way. What I love about Quartino’s layout is how comfortably casual and intimately informal it is. The seats and tables are all wood and the plates are piled high for you to grab and share with the people you’re with. In the back you’ll see the full kitchen and can watch as the chefs shuffle from station to station preparing orders. In-between is their charcuterie and fromagerie. All kinds of incredible imported and house-cured meats hang from the display window and their entire selection of cheeses is housed there as well.

Ambiance and the best scenery aside, it was time to get to the meal itself. Before diving into the dishes, it is important to note one of Quartino’s key appealing features. The restaurant addresses the age-old dilemma of reconciling the fact that the best Italian restaurants serve family style, meaning to share, but with portion sizes so large that often times diners who wish to try a lot are limited to only one or two or three (depending on company) dishes. Borrowing from their neighbors, Quartino serves some incredible Italian dishes in a very Spanish way, as tapas-sized portions still meant for groups to share and enjoy. Or you know, one very hungry man. This meant a lot of dishes and a lot of good drink. Now did one affect the other, perhaps, but you can’t break up a good pair.

On to round 1!

Quartino Round 1

Drink: Negroni

Dishes: Angus Beef Carpaccio and Taleggio

If possible, and especially in Italian restaurants, I like to begin my meals with a classic, THE cocktail of Italy and perhaps the world, the timeless Negroni. To me this is the best cocktail in the world. Perfectly balanced sweetness and bitterness to open the palate and excite the appetite.

The Angus Beef Carpaccio was served with a crunchy, bitter salad of shaved celery and arugula. A generous helping of shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano and a drizzle of EVOO to add that richness and salty creamy tang. The beef was so toothsome. A wonderful play of textures. Tender but meaty slices of Angus beef. Crunchy crispy celery and soft arugula. The thin slices of Parmiggiano Reggiano crumbling and melting in your mouth.

The taleggio, made from cow’s milk, was complex and tangy. The aroma of the cheese fills your head when it arrives at the table. There was a nutty, earthy, slightly bitter taste in the rind that holds together a semi-soft almost creamy texture of cheese on the inside. It spread so tantalizingly on their house-baked rye bread and the apricot jam paired beautifully. The sweetness of the jam balances with the rind and the rest of the cheese rounds out the flavor.

The thing about carpaccio and formaggi is that there is very little involvement in the kitchen with the preparation of these dishes. But it is a great indicator of the level of quality and attention to ingredients that the restaurant chooses to present. I knew very quickly from these two dishes that I was not going to be disappointed. The meat was fresh and flavorful with a strong taste and texture. The cheese was pungent and aromatic.

On to round 2!

Quartino Round 2

Drink: Coletta

Dishes: Wild Arugula Salad and Pappardelle

The Coletta is a very versatile pre-or-post meal dish of bourbon enhanced with vin santo (an Italian fortified wine often served as desert) and Ramazotti, a type of Italian bitter. Much more spirits forward with less sweetness than the Negroni and a wonderfully velvety feel as the bourbon coats the mouth and lingers on the tongue. The drink is smooth and silky with just the right amount of body.

I am not usually a salad man but I love arugula and could not resist. That bitter peppery bite is just so irresistible and Quartino further enhances that with oranges, farro, hazelnuts, and a house-made goat’s milk ricotta. You need no further dressing as the oranges give off their sweet aromatic juice and the ricotta spreads as you press down with your fork. The hazelnuts were such a good addition to the dish. They were slightly roasted to give warmth and smoothness.

Housemade pastas are very difficult to prepare properly. If you’ve ever made pasta from scratch you’ll know that the big difference between that and dried pasta is you can never fully get yours to al dente. Still their housemade pappardelle was thick, broad, and had just the right texture. You could hold a ribbon between your fingers and feel that bounce and firmness to the touch. I am usually not a fan of tomato sauce but this was almost like having a meat dish. Shredded juicy chunks of braised beef short ribs were all over the sauce. The tomato sauce was just tart enough to separate the flavors of all the ingredients. You could pay attention to the pasta and the sauce independently and see that both were prepared with care.

I absolutely could have knocked myself out just gorging on their selection of housemade and imported pastas. The portions were as advertised and so I knew there was still more left in me to continue. I’m glad I ordered the salad because the lightness and freshness of the vegetables and fruits lifted the heaviness of that beefy meaty robust tomato sauce and thick pappardelle.

On to round 3!

Quartino Round 3.jpg

Drink: No Nino of Mine

Dishes: Roasted Baby Octopus and Procini & Truffle Risotto

Sticking to the whiskeys, my third cocktail was a mix of amaro, rye, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, and bitters. Sweeter than I would have anticipated or liked, perhaps wrongly times in my meal, but still a strong cocktail.

Let me tell you, this was the best round of all. I could have contented myself to repeat this course tenfold, forgetting all the rest. It all came together right here. Clearly, as you can see in the picture I had forgotten myself and dug in before I could take the pic. The aroma of the truffles in the risotto was so luxurious. The porcini with the intense flavor. That firmness of the mushroom compared to the creaminess of the risotto. There was bite in each smooth mouthful. Luxurious and rich yet light enough to enjoy more than once. I usually feel with truffle dishes the aroma drowns out other senses and it becomes heavy on the palate. Luckily the cocktail and the octopus were able to cut that. But man alive, that octopus. I miss it already. Just…they should have sent a poet. There was just enough char to make the edges of the tentacles crispy and smoky. I loved the feel of the crunch on each tentacle, especially over the suckers as that was where they had the most interesting surface area and char. The meat was tender but spry. You would take a bite, there’d first be the charred surface and then this wonderful texture of flesh. Not at all rubbery or runny. I love when my meat has just enough fight to make the eating interesting. I couldn’t decide if I preferred the thinner, crispier ends of the roasted octopus or the slightly chewy meaty part closer to the main body. Underneath the tentacles are some braised escarole as well with some thinly sliced red chilis that invigorate and revitalize. One main taste seriously lacking in the meal up until this point was heat and the chili provided just the right amount.

I loved every course of that meal. I think there were some real stars though. That octopus blew me away. The carpaccio was a delight to the senses. Such a pleasure to bite into. The salad captured my attention and my imagination. The added complements to the arugula were so intelligently chosen. If you are ever fortunate enough to be in the Windy City, please do visit Quartino and see for yourself. I have not even begun to scratch the surface of their offerings.

Day 43: The Man and the Double-Dipped Cherry; ‘Complicated’

I got to do things yesterday that I didn’t think I’d get to do for a long time.

I got to experience some firsts again.

I love my friends. I’ve known some of them since elementary school. And because of that, I feel I know pretty well what we’re going to be doing every week. Eat, drink, play some games, watch a movie, chat, call it a night.

I never really looked to them for the excitement and variety in my life. I always looked to my relationships for that. First time to Mexico, that was with a girlfriend. First time hiking, girlfriend. Bouldering, girlfriend. Coney Island, girlfriend. Et cetera. Et cetera. So when my last relationship ended and I decided to take on this experience, I also thought I would be submitting myself to an understanding that my life would be simple, predictable, consistent, for that amount of time as well. I don’t hold that against them. God only knows with my job being the way it is and my emotions always on a day to day basis a little consistency and reliability is certainly appreciated. I have no problem with grabbing a good meal and having some strong drinks either out or at my place with friends. I have no problem with playing card games or board games or watching movies or just talking somewhere with a good ambiance. But that would never really extinguish a desire in me. A thirst for more. I crave new experiences. I am a frenetic ball of energy that needs to vent, to be let loose in some direction. So I was understandably a bit concerned in the long run what I was going to do. I could of course pursue activities on my own. But for even the most solitary of folk, I believe there is a limit to how much of the human experience can really be felt on one’s own. We are social beings, forming communities for survival and prosperity.

I was worried my life would become too simple without my usual outlet (girlfriend) to explore everything I wanted to.

But yesterday proved me wrong. It showed me that my friends, the relationships I already have, can also be a source of new and exciting things. I have discounted my friends too much. I have underestimated their own propensity for adventure. I am humbled and a bit ashamed of myself for that but I see them now for so much more than just the same old same old. I mean, my friends have all had very dynamic lives without me really noticing. Two of them have just recently changed careers and positions. I am so proud of them for chasing after more than what they have and acknowledging their self-worth. Another friend is just now beginning a brand new relationship for the very first time and I can see how much it has changed him for the better. (God I miss that. Hahah.) They have all been equally hungry for life and I was too busy focusing on someone else’s plate rather than theirs.

So we’ve started to do more new things. We’re exploring interests and activities and hobbies. I am allowing myself to let go of plans and pre-conceived notions, I’m learning to be more flexible and share more of what I want to do with them rather than hold it back and prevent myself from really living and enjoying myself during this year of singlehood.

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Your humble author channeling his inner Legolas. Or Green Arrow. Or Robin Hood.

Yesterday we tried something I’ve always been interested in and, I found out, another friend has always been interested in too. A new archery range opened up nearby and they had a Groupon for an hour’s rental and use of the facilities so we decided to give it a try. It was so much fun and there is a certain peace and tranquility in the sport. The guards and equipment make you feel like a superhero and there is a deep and profound satisfaction in the sound of the arrow leaving the bow, even before you concern yourself with whether or not you’ve hit your target. We had some friendly competition and they even tied balloons to our targets once we were more comfortable for us to try and compete with. As I mentioned I discovered that one of my friends had actually always been interested in this as well which was a pleasant surprise and in fact we are seriously considering purchasing our own bows in the future to practice and improve and become more involved in the sport. I think there is great potential in pursuing this interest and I am equally excited for the opportunity to pursue a new hobby with one of my friends and also for the potential it unlocks for future blog posts.

 

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I would love to see if you could all guess which hand is mine.

We also went to the Hoboken Pilsnerhaus for the first time. It is a biergarten in north Jersey with a plethora of imported beers on tap and a large menu of German cuisine, including an indoor grill which would have been awesome if a) it wasn’t already 100 degrees outside b) the grill wasn’t also contributing even more heat into the facility and c) the proprietors weren’t so stingy as to not have air-conditioning inside the building. There isn’t enough beer in the world to make you forget about the heat and humidity. It’s an awesome place and again I got a chance to get really serious about a passion of mine (good food and drink) with a friend. Comparing beers, ordering a few different styles, we definitely could have made a session of it if it wasn’t so unbearably hot and crowded. A note for the future, we should go back for Oktobertfest, or Winterfest, or just ‘you won’t need A/C weather’ fest. The beers were excellent and of a wonderful variety of taste and feel and aroma. The food was wonderful. We started with a grilled sauteed mix of calamari and German sausages with rosemary, garlic, and paprika. From the grill I had two very large but wonderfully seasoned currywursts with crispy shoestring fries and a wonderfully peppery and crunchy housemade sauerkraut. This place is such great fun with the large communal wooden tables and the old world warehouse feel (I just wish the warehouse feel didn’t also include feeling like I was in an old hot warehouse). Had I not been with friends, I actually would not  have even known of this place. It was my friend’s recommendation to go here after archery.

 

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No I do not read or speak Korean. No not all songs are in Korean. This was just taken while my Korean friend was up and he figured if we didn’t know what he was singing, we couldn’t tell if he was messing up. He was wrong.

Even more significant and thoroughly surprising than the biergarten buzz was our Korean karaoke carousal. Yes dear readers after heat exhaustion and heavy drinking, we decided we wanted to spend the rest of our night singing (screaming). I have never been to a Korean karaoke studio before. One of my friends  goes semi-regularly with his friends in the city and another used to go in college with his Korean club (go figure). It would be a brand new experience for two of us though. I had always wanted to try one of these. I am a particularly compelling case of tone-deaf but I cannot deny a deep national heritage of wanting to sing karaoke. If you’ve never been, Korean karaoke studios are great because you rent a room per hour regardless of how many are in your party, the room usually has some sofas, strobe lights, a great sound system, and they are all BYOB and BYOF. We stocked up before heading to this particular one with some beer, some sake, some jelly wine (Yes this exists and it is incredible. Imagine a giant lychee pudding cup only alcoholic. And if you don’t know what a lychee pudding cup is, get an Asian friend and head to your nearest Asian market. This was the best after-school sweet and the best part was sucking up the sweet juice before munching on the lychee and the pudding and this wine perfectly captures that with a slightly emulsified jelly like filling.) and plenty of Asian snacks. You know, rice balls, sushi, fried chicken, it was a real party. I learned I love singing badly with friends. I learned that I am not, surprisingly, the worst singer in the group. I also learned who was the best (still not me). I also learned I really need to step up my old school hip hop game because I can’t get by on singing pop songs. I swear to you the next time I go I will have memorized No Diggety by Blackstreet and U Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer. Maybe I’ll even throw some Salt n Pepa in there courtesy Shoop. Confuse the hell out of my friends. Hahah.

I had an incredible time yesterday, and it goes t show me that I do not have to wait to live. Just because I have decided not to pursue any relationships this year does not mean I can’t have fun with the ones I already have. Life does not have to be simple because you are single. It can be argued that it is definitely simpler than being in a relationship, but by no means does that mean it must be. Life is full of adventure and spice no matter who you choose to live it with. It is varied, complex, and dare I say, even complicated.

Boom. Drop the mic.

Day 43

Man: 27 Loneliness: 16