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Posts Tagged ‘lettuce’

The food in San Juan, Puerto Rico is very expensive for what you get. I guess that’s expected in such a touristy city. That’s especially true when walking the streets of Old San Juan. While that part of town isn’t without its charm, rustic old world food certainly isn’t its draw. We found that the best way to fill your belly without emptying your wallet is to find a good kiosk and get your hands on a tripleta sandwich, a similar morsel to the Cuban sandwich.

We found this Las Tripletas kiosk on the south end of Old San Juan on the cobblestone street near the cruise docks. While I was ordering the sandwich artist told me that his tripleta was much better than any Cuban I’d ever eat. When I asked why he said because his pork was wet and juicy while most Cubans had dry pork. Nothing better than a wet sloppy pork sandwich. Well, almost nothing, I can think of a few things but that’s another conversation.

Quite spacious for a little kiosk. My man here layered the lettuce, tomato, turkey, ham, and pork on the pan de agua (typical Puerto Rican baguette), then squirted some mayo all over and pressed it on his griddle panini-style.

It was a damn good, juicy pork sandwich. Not bad for $5.50.

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There are few things more satisfying in life than sinking your teeth into something truly special. Living in a fast food nation this is something that is harder and harder to come by. Yuki and I were just in Puerto Rico for 10 days, and due to American influence it’s also hard to come by there. If you look though, you can still find moment of culture, that moment of awe, that moment of pure bliss. For us, that moment was found in Guavate, better known as “The Pork Highway”.

Nestled in the mountains about 45 minutes south of San Juan, Guavate has become a destination unlike any other. I was first alerted to it by Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods Episode in Puerto Rico. As a fellow Jew who appreciates the fine art of lechon, suckling pig slowly and expertly roasted on an open fire, I knew I had to get me some.

After turning off Hwy 52 on Rt 184, we kept winding around the mountains looking for this juicy animal. We’d go by a lechonaria here, a lechonaria there, but nothing that resembled what could be called “The Pork Highway”. And then, about 15 minutes later…Xanadu! We had found the object of our desire. A strip with 7 or 8 lechonarias in full bloom. We had told ourselves that we weren’t going to just end up at the one Andrew featured, we would head to the one with the most action, the one that locals were eating at. Of course, that ended up being the one Andrew was at, El Rancho Original. More aptly put, hog heaven!

We got in line as our taste buds were salivating. The line was pretty long, but it moved quickly. El Rancho Original is cafeteria-style, so you just order what you want then pick it up at the register. All the while they have live music and a dance floor that is always packed with people, especially old people gettin down.

When we got up to order I just had to marvel at that pig on a spit with the master hacking it up with a machete. We speak very little Spanish, so they had to get a lady over who spoke more English to take our order. It all worked out as we got what we wanted. We grabbed our food, walked past the dancing into the back cafeteria, and proceeded accordingly.

We ordered a plate full of lechon (of course), some rice and beans, this tamale-like thing of mashed pineapple and pork, a salad of lettuce and tomato to help our bowels process this overload of nutrient information, some morcilla (blood sausage, basically pigs blood with rice and spices stuffed into its intestines and grilled), sweet potato, and a big slice of avocado. It may not look like much in the photo, but believe me, it was a lot of food for two people. All for only $21! I dare you to find a deal like that in Chicago.

Mmmmmmm, crispy skin. Or, as Yuki likes to call it “meat candy”.

This spread was so good! It really was the best pig I’ve ever eaten. My older brother is going to be mad at me for saying this, but Jews are CRAZY!!! Along with every other culture and being who deprives themselves of such pleasure. Call me a hedonist, but that pig sure is tasty! If I could eat El Rancho Original’s lechon every day three times a day I would, as long as there was some beef and scallops peppered in there.

Pork coma. You know, a good nap is a necessary part of life.

Once the pork coma wears off you really have no choice but to start shaking your hips and moving various body parts to the rhythms of old world latin music. Or, maybe all of our bodies were just convulsing from pork overdoses. All I know is that Guavate is one of the last true Puerto Rican experiences left in this world. Something not to be missed if you’re ever in our 51st state, or commonwealth, or whatever it is.

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…on Route 66!

After we hiked out of the Grand Canyon we drove across Arizona and then up to Page through Flagstaff. That route took us on a portion of Historic Route 66. Along the way we decided to stop for a burger.

We stopped in Westside Lilo’s Cafe. Hey, if 5 out of 4 eat there why shouldn’t we?

Yuki and I both got the burger with Cheddar Jack cheese. A basic 1/2 pound of Angus beef burger. Served with the regular accouterments of lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickles. The burgers were actually quite good. Cooked through but not dry and a nice full beef flavor. The fries on the other hand were a different story.

I got the regular french fries. They used real cut potatoes which was nice, but the oil they fried them in was not nearly hot enough. My fries were floppy and just dripping with oil. They left a sizable puddle on my plate. I couldn’t eat them. Fortunately Yuki got the sweet potato fries and they were cooked properly. Nice and crisp on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside. There were more than enough on her plate to fill us both up. So all was not lost, except for maybe some of my stomach lining.

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Yesterday Yuki and I made a trip up to the Mitsuwa market, something we do once or twice a month. Neither of us really felt like cooking dinner so we decided to take advantage of the Bento boxes they prepare fresh every day. I got the Bento Du Jour which centered around a minced cutlet.

Going clockwise starting with the cutlet, you see it was served on top of white rice. The cutlet itself was simply a mix of ground beef, ground pork, and some small diced onion. They coated it in panko and deep-fried it. It was absolutely delicious!

In the next section was a piece if fish cake, a piece of tamagoyaki, two pieces of simmered eggplant, a deep-fried shrimp coated in bread crumbs, broccoli, and a piece of white fish wrapped in squid that was deep-fried. This was all on top of some lettuce.

In the upper left section was a small macaroni salad. It had a very typical mayonnaise sauce with small diced carrot and ham.

Next to that was some gobo and some kuromame. These were both a bit sweeter, especially the kuromame. The simmering liquid for each contained sugar and mirin. I treated the kuromame like dessert.

All of this for only $6.75!!! Good luck finding a meal as well-rounded and delicious as this for that price. The only way I can think of pulling that off is to cook for yourself.

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The other night Yuki and I went for a walk in the neighborhood, something we do quite often when the weather is nice. There’s always new stores and restaurants opening up as well as new condos and real estate that we like to admire or criticize. As we walked down Grand Street we noticed two new things. First, the new Tesla dealership located itself just west of the highway on Grand. What a sweet little ride! Don’t know how that little car will deal with Chicago potholes, but it sure is slick. Second, we noticed a new pizza joint that looked enticing. COALFire Pizza, located at 1321 W. Grand, claims to be the only coal fire oven pizza in Chicago. I’ve never seen another one, so they must be. It’s a Neapolitan-style pizza with an American spin (paraphrased from their website). Instead of the classic wood-fired oven, they use coal. Not sure if it’s from the American love of the grill or the coal unions and lobbies got to them, but they do a damn good pizza.

The interior is a classic Chicago storefront. Very simple inside with enough room between tables to not sit on top of strangers. This place just looks like a clean, mid-scale pizza joint. It smelled really good too.

We started by splitting a Caesar Salad. An absolutely huge salad! Definitely made for sharing. Fresh hand cut lettuce, not that crap that comes pre-cut in large sealed plastic bags that suffocate the produce, tossed with a classic Caesar dressing, a bunch of house toasted garlic butter crutons, and a load of parmesan on top. It was what it was, a large, classic Caesar Salad.

The pizzas are all 14 inches, so they’re ideal for splitting between two people. We ordered the Prosciutto. They do prepare their pizzas very much in the Neapolitan style. Thin crust, with fresh mozzarella on top, and then the sauce (nothing but crushed San Marzano tomatoes, the only tomato to make a real Italian pizza) lightly brushed on top of the cheese. After it came out of the oven it was topped with a lot of really good quality prosciutto. Taste-wise, it did taste pretty authentic. Having been to Naples and eaten a few pies in that area I have a good handle on what a real Neapolitan pizza is. I have no arguments at all with the taste or quality of the pizza. The only thing I would say is that the coal burnt the edges a little too much for our taste. I think the oven gets a little too hot and takes away that chewiness of a real Neapolitan crust. But, they don’t claim to be authentic, so that’s a moot point.

Overall, the service was fast and friendly, the decor was simple and inviting, and the food was fresh and of high quality. When I’m in the mood for a thin crust pizza I think Pizza Metro has found its match. If I just want a couple of slices I’ll walk to Pizza Metro, but if I want a whole pie or want to eat at the restaurant COALFiRE kicks Metro’s butt (the people who run Metro are not very friendly or inviting). I would definitely recommend COALFiRE.

One side note. If you do go for a pie, bring cash. They offer a 10% discount if you pay with cash.

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Alright, going back to last November in Japan, I wanted to show you the dinner we had in Kobe. My buddy Tom lives in Osaka which is a short 25 minute train ride from Kobe. On our way to the Chinatown section to meet up with him we walked by a sake tasting. We knew right away that we had found our appetizers! So, we grabbed Tom and headed back for some sake.

For 500 Yen per person (about $5) they give us each 3 different kinds of sake, a bag of mixed salty snacks, and a tube of sausage. The sake was great, the sausage….not so great. We ended up drinking with a bunch of businessmen that were already hammered and a lot of fun. One of them recognized Tom from a wedding he did (Tom performs weddings in Osaka). Once we were finished with the sake we needed some dinner. Being in Kobe, it had to involve beef! So, we ended up at a Yakiniku joint.

You can probably tell from Tom’s eyes that the sake already had a hold on us when we sat down for dinner. I honestly don’t remember all of the cuts we ordered, but I do know that there was some beef tongue, rib eye, and short rib.

Yakiniku is great. It’s the Japanese version of Korean BBQ. You have the grill in the middle of your table and you order up various slices of meat to grill at your leisure.

Once the meat is grilled you wrap it in lettuce leaves and top it with sauce, and scarf it down.

They also give you little pickled items to eat. I don’t remember what we had that night, but everything was fantastic! Not Kobe’s highest quality beef that made them famous (that would have cost 4 times as much), but still great beef nonetheless.

After finishing up the grilled beef we ordered some Bibimbop, a Korean hot stone rice dish. The stone is heated up super hot, then rice is put in and topped with vegetables and an egg. You stir it all up and eat it down. The best part is the rice that almost burns at the bottom. It’s a great way to finish off a Yakiniku meal.

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While we were in Merida we spent an afternoon walking through an ancient cave in the Yucatan called Lol Tun.  In the Pre-Columbian days there were an estimated 800 people living in it. It really is an impressive site with the highlight possibly being the 15,000 year old reverse hand-print paintings on the cave walls. At any rate, we filled up on lunch prior to walking through the cave.

I’m not sure what this place is called, but it was directly across the street from Lol Tun, so we gave it a shot. While we were sitting there waiting for our food, out of nowhere, something that felt like mud hit my arm, WTF! I wipe it off and look around. I didn’t see anything at all. Then I look up and see two little geckos hanging out on the wooden ceiling beams. A few seconds later another muddy item hits my arm. Little bastards! They both shit on my arm! I ought to grill them up and eat them for that! If they had shat on my food instead of my arm I would have eaten them instead.

I ordered the Salubtes. Hand-made tortillas piled with shredded turkey, tomato, lettuce and chopped onion. They were pretty damn good. About the right size too because I wasn’t starving and I had to try some of Yuki’s dish.

She ordered the Pollo Pibil. Chicken marinated in achiote (annatto), sour orange juice, peppercorns, garlic, cumin, salt, and then wrapped in banana leaves and baked. Although, instead of wrapping it in banana leaves and baking it they grilled it with the marinade and served it with rice, french fries, and a small salad with avocado. It truly was outstanding! As soon as I can fire up the grill in Spring you can better believe I’m going to try my hand at this marinade.

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