Ulterior Motives at Altiro

Altiro Latin Fusion Restaurant

A year ago while on my way home from having sated myself senselessly, I received a text message from a great friend with an accompanying photo. Not that I was in any position to eat anything, I did marvel at the appetizing items he had sent in the text message — and in the subsequent text messages. Several months later he sent another text message with more photos and a recommendation that I should venture out to the West Suburbs to sample the small dishes at the restaurant that he was advertising with relish. Fast forward a year and I decided to take his advice finally. It was off to Altiro Latin Fusion Restaurant at 308 Anderson Boulevard in Geneva, Illinois.

Al Trio

Al Trio

Pineapple Margarita

Pineapple Margarita

Al Elotito

Al Elotito

Because the restaurant had a swell variety of dishes to try, my great friend thought that it would be better to sample different menu items to get a range of flavours. In keeping with Latin flare in food, we had the al trio. This was a flight of guacamole with homemade chips. There were pomegranate, apple, and traditional. Although I have had some “experimental” guacamole during my comings and goings, Altiro did not disappoint with their variations. And living in Chicago proper where there is a large concentration of Mexicans, I have had more elotes than I can recount. Those who love the street vendor corn on the cob will become addicted to the al elotito. This plate of roasted corn, prepared with garlic aioli, serrano pepper, epazote, onions, and cojita cheese, could easily become a wanted dish at every meal. Having the al trio and al elotito with a pineapple margarita that had been mixed with a homemade chipotle pineapple ice cube and chili powder on the rim was a beautiful start.

Al Vegetal

Al Vegetal

Al Camaronchizo

Al Camaronchizo

Al Fundido

Al Fundido

Having devoured the appetizers, it was time to begin sampling variety. Starting with the al vegetal, I was completely wowed with how the recipe yielded something flavourful like a succulent steak. The roasted portabello mushroom, avocado, piña, bell peppers, red onions, and chipotle reduction, served with a chipotle and an avocado reduction, was a tasteful deviation from the norm of chicken, steak, pork, and beef tacos.  The al camaronchizo was one of those tacos that one could fall in love with and forget that there are other kinds of tacos that you can enjoy. I have limited pork intake in my diet, but the chorizo with basque shrimp, avocado slaw, and chipotle aioli was something I forgave quickly.

After a necessary moment to pause before attacking another set of tacos, there was the al fundido, a taco lovers plate of sautéed shrimp, Chihuahua cheese, red onions, and cilantro-lime oil. I had completely forgotten about fast food tacos and I had also completely discounted any of the Mexican holes in the wall in Chicago proper that prepare and sell authentic tacos. For a finale of tacos, we ordered al gallina of grilled chicken, with enchilado sauce, grilled piña, cilantro, and red onions. By this fourth dish of tacos, I noticed that there was distinction among all of the dishes. Per my great friend’s commentary, there is consistency in the flavouring. There certainly was consistency in the quality.

Ala Gallina

Ala Gallina

We gave ourselves a bit more time to let our bellies settle before indulging a postre. I was riding the commuter train back into downtown Chicago and wanted to stay awake, so we opted for something light. Without looking at the menu, I rattled off to the server to surprise us. He obliged. There was a dessert platter that looked like sushi. What we received were four key lime cylinders, topped with strawberry quarters, and indeed looking like something from a sushi bar menu. Ever so grateful that the dessert was light, we consumed it slowly, because it would have been a crime to have left any. And to cancel out my desire to stay alert on the commute back into downtown, I had a guava margarita. I have no willpower.

Postre

Postre

Guava Margarita

Guava Margarita

Altiro Latin Fusion is truly off the beaten path. When people go to Geneva, there are two main strips that everyone crowds. However, Altiro is down a side road on a residential street. Clearly the only way one would discover the restaurant is by getting lost or by inquiring of someone who has gone to Altiro where the exact location is. Because I have had taco overload since moving to Chicago in 1994, I have not been excessively quick to go to any Mexican restaurants or fast food restaurants that serve Mexican fare. Sure, Altiro serves Latin fare, but they add enough pizzazz to their items that after the first bite of food from any other Latin restaurant, you may want to throw your plate against the wall. Well, it may be better to simply request the check and make the trek out to Geneva instead. Altiro Latin Fusion will be there. You should be there, too.

Altiro Latin Fushion on Urbanspoon

Las Tablas, All About Colombia

Las Tablas

If someone were to employ me as a bona fide food critic, I would be at least 285 pounds. Either that or I would be more of an exercise fanatic than I am now. After my recent strength and endurance training at the gym, I was not as sore as I had been after each session during my first week. Also what I have noticed is that my appetite has spiked, which is okay since my goal is to gain weight — well, muscle mass. Recalling a Colombian restaurant that I had gone to with a great friend years ago in the early days of Chicago Alphabet Soup, I opted to sample from the Portage Park location.

At 4920 W. Irving Park Road is Las Tablas Colombian Steakhouse. Large, spacious, airy, and with plenty of seats, I arrived early, thinking I would get ahead of the crowd. Because I had been snacking all morning and throughout a bit of the afternoon, I had planned not to order as if I had companions dining with me. So, I ordered a reasonable meal and went through my ritual of getting my camera ready for capturing the photos for the blog. No sooner had I finished then I looked up and saw several patrons coming to sit at tables next to me. Of course I got the stares as if I were a hydra once I began my photography.

Las Tablas Collage

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

Now, in addition to my appetite being wild, I drink water and natural juices constantly. One juice that had stayed in my mind when I had gone to the Lincoln Park location was a jugo naranjilla — lulo juice. It brings to mind pineapple and Jamaican june plum juice. It was good for the starter of empanadas that I ordered. There were empanada con queso and empanada con pollo. There must have been a change in the recipe because the empanadas were deep-fried instead of baked, the way they were years ago during my visit. That was no problem, since I had fallen in love with deep-fried empanadas after going to Costa Rican and Venezuelan restaurants.

The entrée was a Utopian platter, for me. It was spiced shrimp served with half of a potato, yucca, and plantain. Some would probably look at the platter and sneer, thinking there was not much to it. I simply commenced to working my knife and fork on the plump shrimp and seasoned sides. And because there were about ten fat shrimp on the platter, I had absolutely nothing to complain about — nothing at all. With the remaining jugo naranjulla, this was a lunch that I would never tire of having.

Surprisingly, I have been disciplined such that I have not indulged a sweet after every meal. Such was the case after lunch at Las Tablas. I had thought about perhaps a cup of coffee afterwards, but I am working myself out of taking coffee after my meals. Slowly, I am reverting to taking tea after my meals. I am certain at a cup of coffee thanks to Juan Valdez would have been a highlight after my culinary session at Las Tablas, but I was good, nonetheless, and did not have a dessert.

Having arrived at what seems like the beginning of an extreme busy time, the one server who was working the floor alone really looked like he was about to get on his knees and crawl. Recognizing how trying it must be when suddenly overloaded, I was cognizant of my ordering and requests in advance so that I was not like several of the others who stopped the man every time he passed their tables. The prices are extremely reasonable for a steakhouse and I will co-sign on the fact that the quality of the output from the kitchen is top-notch. I have a feeling that the closer evening approaches, it may be advisable to make reservations. Once you sample the food, it becomes evident as to why you’ll need reservations because the last thing you’ll want is to watch platters of aromatic dishes passing within your visual range without the servers stopping and placing the dishes immediately within your reach.

Las Tablas on Urbanspoon

Little Bucharest Bistro

Little Bucharest Bistro

Several years ago, an individual who had done some photography and web development for some restaurants had given me two recommendations. One was for an Italian restaurant — Pasta D’Arte — and the other was for a Romanian restaurant. I went to Pasta D’Arte during the late summer of 2013 and decided that I should also follow up on the second recommendation. So, not far from Logan Square is Little Bucharest Bistro at 3661 N. Elston Avenue in Chicago’s Irving Park neighbourhood. It was a nice Saturday afternoon and my appetite was absolute wildly, now more than ever because I had been doing a few sessions of CrossFit training.

Little Bucharest Bistro has an airy, spacious interior and thanks to plenty of large windows, the setting isn’t dim. For those who wish to sit outside, there is outside seating, but having arrived early, indoor seating next to a window worked perfectly for me. Although Eastern European food is something that I prefer mostly when the temperatures are chilly, I asked my server for recommendations, while informing her that vegetarian is my first preference and seafood is my second. The offerings that I got had exceeded my expectations.

Little Bucharest Bistro Collage

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For a starter, I had borscht. At most Eastern European restaurants, the borscht tasted like it had been prepared with pickled beets from a jar. The taste was alway too sharp. At Little Bucharest Bistro, there was definitely a flavouring of cooked beets from a garden that didn’t leave an overpowering taste. It was also nice that the soup was full of beets and not just beet juice. Second to the table was the village salad, which consisted of red bell peppers, green bell peppers, red onions, cucumber, feta cheese, tomatoes, and olives. Drizzled with a nice balsamic vinaigrette, this was rabbit food I would welcome anytime. With the complementary, homemade bread, my taste for Eastern European food had a bit of a renaissance.

A light appetizer that I got next was a plate of eggplant, prepared much like baba ganoush, that was served with pita bread, a small salad, and a melange of pickles, crepes with cream cheese, and salmon. What an offering and this small platter still packed a flavourful punch that I would gladly indulge on future visits. And in keeping with vegetarian dishes, there was the vegetarian goulash. This was a hearty dish of grilled eggplant, cabbage, peppers, spinach, and garlic couscous in a tomato sauce. I was expecting something along the lines of a spaetzle, but the goulash was a classic example of different being outstanding.

There is the feel of family-owned and small restaurants that you get as soon as you enter Little Bucharest Bistro. From the owner greeting you at the door — you never get that kind of welcome at downtown eateries — to the wait staff that is attentive and engaging to the food that leaves you wanting more, this is certainly a restaurant that should be on your list of places you must sample in Chicago. Aside from my usual running around, travelling, and getting into other things, it should not have taken me years to follow up on the recommendation to go to Little Bucharest Bistro. This first experience is definitely all the more reason I shall have to return again very, very soon to see what other delights they have on their menus to convert me into a regular customer. And with autumn and winter coming, Eastern European food will do well for my appetite.

After Dinner Drink

After Dinner Drink

Little Bucharest Bistro on Urbanspoon

Rio’s D’Sudamerica in Norteamerica

Rio's D'Sudamerica

Up until the 90’s, Chicago’s go-to neighbourhoods for restaurant life were in the neighbourhoods that bordered Lake Michigan north of downtown. By the mid-90’s there was a new stretch of go-to neighbourhoods along Milwaukee Avenue and the Blue Line elevated train. Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Uptown, Andersonville, and Edgewater now have competition. West Town, Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park, and Bucktown started gaining popularity, as swanky boutiques, independent coffeehouses, intimate restaurants, and nice housing filled the landscape. And none of the restaurants and shops were disappointing. For example, there is Rio’s D’Sudamerica at 2010 W. Armitage Avenue in Bucktown neighbourhood, where you can have some of the best, authentic Peruvian cuisine in the city.

A short trip from the now-popular Logan Square, I met a friend so that I could get an entry on Chicago Alphabet Soup for Peru. She started with a lemon drop martini and I started with a mojito. Compliments to the bartender for mixing drinks that weren’t watery or overpowering. To quote Goldilocks, “It was just right.” My friend had been to Rio’s D’Sudamerica before, so I accepted her recommendations. One that sounded rather pedestrian was papa a la huancaina. This is now my favourite potato salad. The creamy sauce made the dish a dream. With us being seafood fanatics, we also ordered a dish of camarones en costra de quinua con pure de yuca-rocoto y salsa de maracuya. Four plump shrimp, encrusted in quinoa, were served over yucca seasoned with rocoto, olive oil, and lemon juice glazed with passion fruit sauce. Who in his or her right mind would want to awake from this dream?

Rio's D'Sudamerica Collage

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

As if the appetizers weren’t divine enough, there was a platter of camarones a la plancha for an entrée. It would be hard to tire of eating sautéed shrimp that had been cooked in a red chili sauce and topped with a garlic and butter cream sauce. Served with white rice that actually had flavour, this was an entrée to enjoy slowly. Although I have had camarones al la plancha before, this was the first time I was silent because it was so lip-smacking. The dish that was new to me was the plate of arroz chuafa con camarones. I have had my share of Chinese fried rice and liked it. However, I am now in love with Peruvian fried rice and the shrimp that exploded in this rice dish that was sautéed with green onions, egg, ginger, and soy sauce was absolutely addictive. I am a fan.

Because the appetizers and entrées were hearty, we sat for awhile and let our bellies settle before our final attack on some desserts. Light in texture, full of flavour, and heavy on the arteries, we had flan Peruano. This was not a regular flan, for it was creamy. The texture was not like that of old Jell-O, but like slicing through a cloud. Not drowned in a caramel glaze, it wasn’t sugary, which made it that more enjoyable on the palate. The dessert that could result in a continuous, long line outside of Rio’s D’Sudamerica is the lucuma temptation. This ice cream, which is made from the lucuma fruit, yielded the flavour of dulce con leche. Had we not been sated, I would have ordered another dish of it.

Rio’s D’Sudamerica has a large interior with plenty of seating. Because the food on the incredible scale is perhaps a 20 on a scale of 1 to 10, the restaurant fills up quickly. As always, I am a stickler for quality of food, service, and price. Rio’s D’Sudamerica blew me away on all three. This is one of the reasons why Bucktown is one of the sought-after neighbourhoods in Chicago. It is definitely the main reason I have an entry on my calendar for a return in a few weeks.

Rios D'Sudamerica on Urbanspoon

Culinary Harmony — Masala Indian & Mediterranean Cuisine

Masala Indian & Mediterranean Cuisine

Nothing like a quick personal holiday away and then returning with an appetite. Food on airplanes do nothing but keep me slightly appeased and I should not complain too much because I will be on another plane towards the end of the week flying away for a another stretch of time. In the meantime, I made it a point to compensate for the lack of tasty morsels while sitting cramped in the economy section for my long flight.

A friend had mentioned an Indian and Thai restaurant in the Uptown neighbourhood, not far from where he lives. Midway through the conversation he said that the restaurant is now Indian and Mediterranean. I understood how Indian and Thai could tie cuisines together — by way of the curry dishes. However, a growling belly leaves very little margin for me to sit around and ponder food for too long. So, I was off to Masala Indian & Mediterranean Cuisine at 1002 W. Argyle Street.

Masala Indian & Mediterranean Collage

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

Initially, I was going to have entrées only, but something told me to satisfy my appetite completely. I started with a samosa. After having added some tamarind chutney and cilantro chutney, I was tempted to order about six for take-away after the first bite. Lately I have had baked samosas and the pastry was not flaky. The crust to the samosa at Masala Indian & Mediterranean Cuisine was a dream. As to the entrées, I had ordered chicken makhani and palak paneer and requested that they were prepared to be spicy. The chicken makhani was outstanding. I was surprised that the palak paneer was more like paneer bhurji with spinach rather than like saag paneer, which made that entrée that more indulgent.

I didn’t see poori on the menu and had mentioned poori rather passively while ordering. What made me an instant fan of Masala was the server returning to the table and saying that the chef could prepare poori. As thankful as I was, I was not expecting that kind of accommodation. On a scale of 1 to 10, it made the whole experience a 25. So, I used the poori to scoop a good bit of the food and a fork, of course, later the course.

Still being diligent about keeping my sugar intake low, I had kheer and masala chai. Topped with crushed pistachios, the kheer was super. I could have had more than just the bowl of it, but I was already too full. However, I could order quite a bit of it for take-away and enjoy for breakfast, as well as throughout the day and after dinner. The mark of a good chai is the skin that floats atop once it’s brought to the table. That is the indication that you’re not getting chai from a carton that has been heated. The kheer and masala chai were a perfect finale to a fantastic lunch.

Masala Indian & Mediterranean Cuisine does indeed have a Mediterranean menu. The restaurant opened its doors only a few months and the husband and wife team have added a welcomed addition to Uptown. I did not get to sample any of the Mediterranean fare since I did not want to mix cuisines. But being able to say that the Indian portion of the menu is worthy of repeat visits, I shall certainly return one day with a taste for some Mediterranean options. Masala Indian & Mediterranean Cuisine aced three things I always seek when going to restaurants — delicious food, first-rate service, and reasonable prices. Restaurants like this make it hard for me to not be in love with eating constantly.

Masala Indian & Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

EL Ideas, Where Art Meets Contemporary Cuisine

The thing about family and close friends is that you never have a boring moment. And if eating without shame is your thing, then those family members and close friends know what really appeals to your palate and they make outstanding recommendations accordingly. Friday afternoon before work and a great friend and I were going back and forth about what restaurant would be worthy of sampling after the clock struck 5:00. The one we wanted to try had reservations available for Saturday, so we made reservations for Saturday. In the meantime, we went to Green Zebra in West Town to indulge their vegetarian menu.

Saturday came and after a long day of anticipation, we arrived at EL Ideas in University Village. At 2419 W. 14th Street in an area that looks anything but inviting, is a welcoming restaurant where, as mentioned in the subject, art meets contemporary cuisine. There are countless restaurants in Chicago where presentation trumps taste and several restaurants where presentation and taste are absolutely top. El Ideas falls into the latter because while everything put in front of your looks like fine art, it is all fine dining that makes going to W. 14th Street quite okay.

Collage

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

The menu is fixed, which means you don’t have a bill of fare placed in front of you so that you can pontificate what you want to eat. The seating area is small, so those who love going to restaurants with a large party of friends may have to rethink trying to pile in comfortably. Also, because the atmosphere promotes a dinner party concept and the kitchen is in visual range, you get to engage the chefs and see what they’re preparing for your taste buds. But just to give you an idea of what we had, below is a highlight of the menu items that we had for our gastro-feast.

Caviar Blueberry. Moonshine. Banana. You have to eat this by licking the plate. You actually have no choice since no eating utensils are given.
Watermelon Feta. Eggplant. Basil. Mint This was a “you can’t go wrong” course. Unless you drop watermelon on the floor, it is hard to mess up any dish having it as an ingredient. Case in point with this refreshing taster.
Nunavut Char Cantaloupe. Fennel. Chili. I love the silky texture of cooked Atlantic char, but having it in tartar form gives the cooked version a run for its money.
Mussels Beer. Garlic. Tomato. Birch. After you pour the beer sauce over the mussels, those who don’t like beer may reconsider.
Sturgeon Summer squash. Green tomato. Tarragon. With the texture of extremely tender chicken, this course made sturgeon that much more of a favourite fresh fish choice for me.
Raviolo Morel. Plum. Lobster. Having fallen in love with a lobster consomme at my favourite French restaurant in the Chicago area, this was heaven in a deep bowl.
French Fries & Ice Cream Potato. Leek. Vanilla ice cream. This is pure genius, as the dish remains hot and cold at the same time.
Fonduta Black truffle. Bellota. Bread. Because we requested no pork in our course, we had extra truffles as a substitute. Notice I didn’t mention anything about us complaining, for it would be a crime to moan about extra truffles.
Bison Bok choy. Rutabaga. Bleu cheese. Although pork is a no-no in my diet, we had forgotten that there could be other meat choices on the menu. The bison, cooked medium rare, didn’t stand a chance once the plate reached the table.
Foie Gras. Raspberry. Star anise. Huckleberry. This course of raspberry foam over huckleberry had a wow factor that I cannot register on a 1 to 10 scale. No scale could accommodate my rating.
Peach Oatmeal. Elderflower. Lychee. I love peaches. But combine peaches and lychee sorbet, and then put it over oatmeal, you have a truth serum.
Chocolate Cherry. Mahlab. Chocolate brownie, chocolate block, raspberry, and vanilla ice cream made with the help of liquid nitrogen, chemistry comes to the kitchen and everyone is happy.

As you can see, it is better to go on an empty stomach. The portions may be small, and most of them are not as small as they are at some like restaurants, but thirteen courses tend to amount to a lot of food. If the dining experience that my friend and I had is any indication of how El Ideas operates, then you can expect to be at the restaurant for almost, if not more than, three hours. To devour such incredibly delicious food in less than two hours is suspicious — that is, the diner is running from something or someone.

One thing to note is that EL Ideas is a BYOB affair. Not to sound like a snob, but if beer is your thing, a backyard barbecue may be a more fitting venue. However, if you have a refined palate for vegetarian dishes, seafood, and choice meats, a bottle of red wine, white wine, or both would be highly recommended. The price may be steep for some, but the food is outstanding and the service is top-notch. Having been to restaurants in Chicago like Alinea, Moto, and Schwa, I must say that EL Ideas has found a comfortable slot in my Top 5 High End Contemporary Dining restaurant listings. Next time I will take a bottle of wine. No, I will take two.

EL Ideas on Urbanspoon

Seefood Diet at The Fish Guy Market

The Fish Guy Market

Several weeks ago, I was on a hunt for boutique restaurants that sell some of the best lobster rolls that you can find in and around Chicago. Since then, I have seen Instagram photos and Facebook posts showcasing lobster rolls. I have also received email notes inquiring if I would like to sample lobster rolls from various restaurants. I had no idea that these lovely little seafood sandwiches were so popular. Needless to say, I found another seafood restaurant that doubles as a seafood market named The Fish Guy Market at 4423 N. Elston Street in Chicago’s Albany Park.

Gazpcho

Gazpcho

I started with a nice cool bowl of Andaluzian gazpacho. This soup of puréed tomatoes, a dash of vinegar, olive oil, and garlic was well received by my outrageous appetite. With it being warm and humid outside, having something cool was not a bad option. Considering most enjoy their soups at temperatures that require blowing on it to cool it off before sipping, the gazpacho makes for a great summer soup.

Lobster Ceviche

Lobster Ceviche

Next was a lobster ceviche. Anyone who has had ceviche has had it with shrimp and they already know that it is an appetizing start to most Central and South American meals. Well, imagine plump lobster added and the usual bloom of flavours from the citrus spices. Served with crunchy tortilla chips, this ceviche is one menu item to order and devour during any visits to The Fish Guy Market.

Fruit De Mer

Fruit De Mer

While talking to the guy behind the counter about cameras and how long The Fish Guy Market has been in business, I had not noticed that he was chopping up some baby octopus and doctoring it up in olive oil with a few extra ingredients and spices. It wasn’t until he placed it in front of me that I realized I was getting a sampling of some fruit de mer. Even without having been grilled, the octopus was tender, and not tough. The olive oil gave it an Italian influence, but that was just fine. I gobbled it regardless.

Lobster Roll

Lobster Roll

By now I was ready to address my main reason for going to The Fish Guy Market. One of the individuals behind the counter was preparing my lobster roll and instead of it being done out of view in some kitchen or out of sight, I got to see the magic from my seat. There was a hearty amount of lobster added to the rolls, seasoned, and ready for my teeth. Served with potato chips and slaw, the plating was certainly appealing to the appetite. Unlike most lobster rolls that have some doctored mayonnaise, there didn’t seem to be any on the lobster roll at The Fish Guy. Instead, the natural juices of the lobster and the seasoning appeared to be what made the roll. Then again, there may have been some mayonnaise on the sandwich, but very faint. I took my time and completed the task before me.

Skipjack Tuna

Skipjack Tuna

Another small l’amuse that I got to sample was skipjack tuna. Lightly seared on the outside, this was a meaty interlude that made me love tuna even more than I loved it already. I scanned the menu to see if it was one of the items that the restaurant serves and didn’t see it. I must admit that it would be a divine menu item to add because anyone who gets to have a go of it will want more and more of it.

The Fish Guy Maket Collage

The restaurant offerings are outstanding. The fresh seafood selection certainly was an attention grabber. With the restaurant and market area being bright and incredibly clean, I will definitely return to The Fish Guy Market to purchase any seafood that I plan to cook. Being a stickler for good customer service, it’s apparent that the market aces that aspect of business because there was a steady flow of repeat customers coming in and out. I understand fully why they return. They have a seefood diet, no doubt. Yes, I wrote seefood.

Fishguy Market on Urbanspoon

Feeling French, Craving Crepes, Crepe Bistro

Crepe Bistro

Now that Icosium Kafe in Lincoln Park and its sister location in Andersonville closed their doors to business, the creperies in Chicago that I loved had dwindled down to Crepe Town in Uptown. There are several crepe shops in Chicago, but rude and dismissive service kill the appetite. Having been to Crepe Town recently, I wanted to try another creperie in the city that I hadn’t visited before. And while roaming around in the Loop, I happened upon Crepe Bistro at 186 N. Well Street. Serendipity.

Upon entry, there are a few tables in the front area and a full bar to the immediate left. I looked like around the corner and saw that there were some lounge chairs and a sofa, very much the atmosphere of coffeehouses before they became classrooms for Internet access. I opted to sit outside since the weather was fantastic. After a quick glance at the menu, I was ready for action once the server approached.

Bellini. Coconut shrimp. Tomato basil soup. Kathmandu crepe. Banana nutella crepe. Coffee with cream.

The Bellini was exactly what I needed after a long week of Murphy’s Law at work making me want a hammer to the back of the head. When initially brought the table, it looked like a fanciful liquid parfait. And the bartender, who was also my server, deserves an encore for mixing the Bellini in such a fashion that it was smooth and easy on the way down. The coconut shrimp was delicious, although the accompanying sauce made the appetizer mildly sweeter. I gobbled the rest sans the sauce. The tomato basil soup didn’t taste like anything from a can, or doctored up from a can, so I was pleased with each spoonful.

Crepe Bistro Collage

Kathmandu Crepe. Coconut Shrimp. Tomato Basil Soup. Bellini. Banana Nutella Crepe.

The Kathmandu crepe was a winner. Stuffed with chicken, mushrooms, and mozzarella, and topped with a curry sauce and mango chutney, I was glad to have been hanging out in the Loop and hankering for crepes. Unlike minimalist crepes I have had at other creperies in Chicago and very much like Crepe Town in Uptown, the Kathmandu crepe was loaded. Per the server’s recommendation, I had the banana nutella crepe that ranks up there with my favourite bananas foster crepe. Again, here was another crepe that was stuffed instead of flat and cute for presentation. Along with the banana nutella crepe, I decided to take coffee with cream. If I have said it once, I have said it a million times: the biggest indicator of a quality coffee is being able to drink it without any sweeteners. Yes, I used the milk, but milk is not excessively sweet enough to overpower bitter coffee and the coffee at Crepe Bistro was anything but bitter.

I went during the late morning on a Saturday, so it wasn’t crowded the way I figure it gets later in the day or through the week. It may have been my luck to get the bartender for my server because not only was she good with suggestions, but also quite conversational: a trait in good bartenders. While observing the outdoor menu that was on a placard, I was curious as to whether Crepe Bistro was pandering to Russian, French, or some fusion of the two. During conversation with the bartender, she mentioned that the owner was Russian. Ah, that explained borscht on the placard. However, Crepe Bistro indeed honours French cuisine along the lines of crepes.

So, now Crepe Town and Crepe Bistro are my two favourite creperies in the city. I may have to search for a few other creperies that I may find myself fancying regularly. Well, that is provided the servers aren’t serving attitude with my orders.


Crepe Bistro on Urbanspoon

Ristorante, Trattoria, Osteria Langhe

Osteria Langhe

A friend told me that all I post on my Facebook page are photos of food. If he were following me on Instagram, he would keep a constant appetite after looking at all of the photos of food that I post there. And speaking of Instagram, someone who is on my friends list on that social media outlet had been posting photos of food at a new restaurant that opened in Logan Square. After seeing way too many photos of appetizing compositions, I made a prompt reservation for a visit. Osteria Langhe, at 2824 W. Armitage, was where all the magic happened. Yes, this is where I made four courses disappear.

Grilled Octopus

Grilled Octopus

Salad

Salad

Osteria Langhe serves Italian cuisine that is more customary in the Piedmont region. With me being in one of my experimental moods, I didn’t bother looking at the menu. I gave the server my boilerplate disclaimer — I love seafood and while I have no food allergies, I hate nuts, and as to something to drink, simply tell the bartender whatever you plan to send to the table and have him or her mix something along the lines of a cocktail accordingly.

Libations

Libations

Paloma

Paloma

Amaro

Amaro

For my first course, I had polipo. This dish of grilled octopus, heirloom tomatoes, basil, capers, saffron oil, and grilled bread was a fantastic starter. The octopus did not have a rubbery texture to it. The tenderness of it made cutting into it feel almost like slicing through very tender chicken. Although the salad of tomatoes and mini greens came without much of a vinaigrette, there was enough to accompany the salad while letting the octopus have the stage as the star.

The bartender had mixed some libation that I never captured because I was engaged in lively conversation with the owner. However, it was quite refreshing and had a vodka base. Thanks to me not getting the name of the drink, I now have a reason to return, for sure, and to order the drink again. I will show a photo of the libation since that will be the only cue I will have as to what it was.

The second course was a salad of spicy mixed greens, kohlrabi, green peas, parmesan, and croutons of fried veal brains. Not having pork in my diet, I had forgotten to say that I am a pescatarian so that the fried veal brains would have been omitted, but the “sweetbread” croutons were actually flavourful. They were like fried cotton candy — if you can imagine that. Nevertheless, after waving my magic wand, that being my fork, I made the salad vanish.

Shrimp and Scallop Risotto

Shrimp and Scallop Risotto

Soft Shell Crab, Insalata Russa

Soft Shell Crab, Insalata Russa

The third course of risotto with shrimp and scallop was where I thought that I had reached the apex of my dining experience. The risotto comes as a different variety per day and I was fortunate that I got the seafood version. A very, very creamy base to it, the risotto reminded me of French cooking. This dish, however, was Italian cooking at its finest. I savoured the risotto at great length because such a dish should not be devoured as if rushing thereafter is a necessity.

With the third course, and as a continuation into the fourth course, I had a Paloma. This was another summer drink made with grapefruit, lime sugar, tequila, and Filbert’s grapefruit soda. Those in Chicago may have, or may not have, ventured down into the 3400 block of South Ashland Avenue and quenched your thirst on a Filbert’s soda. Their grapefruit soda in the Paloma was definitely a divine ingredient.

The fourth course was the dish that solidified my decision to become a regular at Osteria Langhe. This plate of soft shell crab and insalata russa is one that everyone should try, especially those who think that they know where the best Italian food is served. The soft shell crab had an egg batter that made it very light and there was so much meat in the crab that each bite was an explosion. The insalata russa, which is a combination of potato salad and tuna salad, was a dream. Not a salad that one finds on Italian menus, it was an ideal choice for this dish and a great introduction to something authentically Italian that is not served in America-side Italian eateries.

Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta

The fifth course was the finale. Nothing spectacular like a tiramisu, tartufo, biscotti, or cannoli, but creamy and outstanding for a wrap-up, I had a panna cotta served with mixed berries. Along with that came a small glass of Amaro liqueur. Having a dessert like this prepared at the restaurant means it comes without artificial ingredients. All you get is greatness in taste.

One may say that there is a such thing as too many Italian restaurants. However, there is never a bad thing when it comes to discovering more to Italian dining than pasta and pizza. The introduction to Piedmont cuisine was absolutely luscious and a draw for what will be a constant return for me. The service is out of this world, from the owner who is fully engaging in conversation the way restaurant owners are in Italy to servers who can offer tempting recommendations to the bar service that mixes liquid satisfaction without any disappointment. Osteria Langhe has a “Make yourself at home” feel to it and regular customers — like I have decided to become — will attest that another Italian restaurant on the Logan Square landscape is a dream come true.

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Turquoise Café, A Little Turkish Spice

Turquoise Café

Middle of the week and I was reviewing the listing of ethnic restaurants that I have blogged so far. I realized that Thai, Indian, Italian, Latin American, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern food are abundant in Chicago. And I wondered what I had possibly missed. Then I realized that not far from where I live is a swanky stretch of boutique shops that has some culinary surprises. And what should I find while wandering around after work but a Turkish restaurant. Turquoise Café at 2147 W. Roscoe Street is one that was new to me, although it has served Roscoe Village for several years, so the intent of the experience was to enjoy it as a brand new discovery.

Arriving well before sunset, I sat outside to enjoy the nice weather. Warm bread and a spread of eggplant, red peppers, and olive oil came to the table. Turquoise Café has a neon sign in the window that says, WE BAKE OUR OWN BREAD. They do a superb job and the light smokiness of the spread was a nice start. Where I knew the dining experience was going to be top was with the diver sea scallops served with lettuce leaves shaped to hold mini tomato salads and situated atop dollops of creamed avocado wasabi. I have had tender scallops at numerous restaurants. However, cutting through the scallops at Turquoise Café was like slicing through a cloud. You would not think something so cloud-like would burst with flavour either, the way those seasoned scallops tasted. My next starter was a bowl of creamy lentil soup. If I sound like a broken record when I say that Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants serve the best lentil soup, I apologize, but anyone who slurps a bowl of the lentil soup will corroborate my statement.

Turquoise Café, Collage

Turquoise Café, Collage

Having spent the July 4th weekend feasting with African and Caribbean friends, I did not partake of the American favourites like barbecue ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs,  macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob, and Miller Genuine Draft beer. Coming down from my high of curry chicken, jerk fish, red snapper, rice and beans, waakye, jolloff rice, and homemade ginger beer, I was in a rare mood to deviate from my pescatarian diet, as if I haven’t done that enough. I ordered lamb chops over a medley of vegetables consisting of potatoes, brussel sprouts, broccoli, mushrooms, and asparagus tips. Greeks are not the only ones to prepare lamb worthy of wanting a second dish and Turquoise Café produces a plate of tender lamb even when it has been requested to be cooked well. After delighting myself completely with the succulent chops, I told the server that I would have dessert and coffee, but required some time to pause. When the wait was over, I had kazandibi with Turkish coffee. Leave baklava for the non-adventurers. The creamy custard of the kazandibi topped with a light caramelized sugar crust and further topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and then garnished with berries is a “must” dessert option.

Turquoise Café has a nice interior, for those who brim with happiness over ambience. For those who are aware that Chicago has eight months of winter that require most dining experiences to occur inside, take advantage of the outdoor seating in the midst of Roscoe Village and indulge yourself to satisfaction on some delectable Turkish menu items. One thing to be aware of is that food is placed to order. While many may think that some items should arrive at the table post haste, they don’t, and you may want to have restaurants you visit in the future take their time preparing your dishes. For my dining experience, I was expecting a bill somewhat bloated considering all that I ordered. I was pleasantly  surprised. So, for lip-smacking food, top service, and a reasonable price, I left sated and with intentions to return in the future. I could use a little Turkish spice in my life.

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