Something Different, Somethin’ Sweet Donuts

Somethin' Sweet Donuts Collage

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Only a few years ago, cupcakes were all the rage in Chicago. It seemed as though new cupcake shops were opening doors monthly. They peddled cupcakes baked with Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, or Pillsburry cake mix, and heaped high with two to three inches of frosting. Now it seems as though doughnuts are going through a renaissance. In the same fashion as cupcakes, you can get your doughnut piled high enough with frosting and toppings to make the tooth fairy brim with delight.

Several months ago, while heading home from Oak Park, I had a taste for some doughnuts. I was not in the mood for Dunkin Donuts and I definitely was not craving any of the “artisanal” variety. I did a quick search on my phone and saw a listing for a doughnut bakery named Somethin’ Sweet Donuts at 5112 W. Fullerton Avenue. On the first visit, it would be cliche to say that “the rest was history” after the purchase. Having kicked myself for buying only four doughnuts would be more fitting. What doughnut bakery is open at 8:30 PM and sells doughnuts that are as fresh as any you would buy at the break of dawn when they open for business? I was addicted. And given that my teeth didn’t ache from having to work them through an inch of some excessive decorative sugar, I was in love.

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Old Fashioned, Cherry, Apple Crisp Cherry, Old Fashioned, Apple Crisp

Fast forward to the present and I have just finished washing my hands after devouring a cherry doughnut while taking a cup of tea. I have been returning to Somethin’ Sweet Doughnuts every Friday after work — a ritual now — to purchase an assortment of 4-6 doughnuts. I was shocked at the cost the first time I had bought a dozen because the cash register showed a total considerably less than what I’ve paid when I’ve bought the same quantity from any of the popular doughnuteries. (There’s a new word for you.) I get the fascination with the brand name bake shops and during my youth when sugar was supreme in my diet, I could consume a doughnut heaped high with 3-4 ingredients. I can’t do that now. I prefer to taste the actual doughnut, not just the toppings.

I was in my twenties the last time I had a doughnut that didn’t make my gums throb. We’ll leave it at that was a rather long time ago. Somethin’ Sweet Donuts has won my heart (Best Customer Service) and my stomach (Best Doughnuts).

Somethin’ Sweet Donuts on Urbanspoon

Antique Taco, New Style Tacos

Antique Taco

Wondering what to have for lunch, I was in Wicker Park on the hunt for a Pakistani restaurant that turned out not to be open for business yet. During the middle of the afternoon, restaurants in Wicker Park have lines out the door. My appetite does not play nicely when it comes to waiting. It is almost like a little brat, constantly making my stomach growl, which makes me grumpy. Well, across the street at 1360 N. Milwaukee Avenue was Antique Taco and it looked like there was plenty of seating. Not that any seat had my name on it, there was some food that needed to be shown that I loved it.

Strawberry Ginger Margarita

Strawberry Ginger Margarita

Guacamole and Chips

Guacamole and Chips

Strawberry ginger margaritas. Guacamole and chips. Garlic shrimp tacos. Keema empanada. Let me first say that the price for the entire meal came out higher than I expected. I should have paid more attention to the prices while I was being excessively hungry. But that was not a problem. When I look back on the experience, the delectable component of the food justified the cost.

Garlic Shrimp

Garlic Shrimp

I had recently been spoiled by having some awesome chunky guacamole at a Mexican restaurant, so the creamy guacamole at Antique Taco was good only to me in comparison. The shrimp tacos were worth writing home about, and ordering again during future visits. When I say that the addition of cauliflower elote and the creamy avocado basil salsa worked divinely in the recipe, I’m actually shouting it. What would have otherwise been two bland tacos were food fantastic. The keema empanada reminded me of keema samosas that you get at Indian restaurants. The meat was in a sauce rather than simply flavoured. Beware that these are not small, cute empanadas, but rather small one-course meals. And the strawberry ginger margaritas were perfect for washing everything down. Not heavy on the alcohol, I didn’t realize how much was in it until I got home and felt a need for a nap.

Keema Empanada

Keema Empanada

Antique Taco seems to be a hot spot, much like most restaurants in Wicker Park. Although I arrived shortly after the doors opened for business, about 30 minutes into my dining experience, the restaurant filled to capacity and there was a long line at the door. I get the allure. If you want to enjoy your meal inside, I suggest and highly recommend that you arrive at the opening of business. Now, one thing to note is that Antique Taco may be couched in Mexican cuisine. However, they add a twist to the menu items that make you want to try something new every time I go there. I have no idea where the name for the restaurant came from. What I will say is I love the “new” take on a Mexican staple.

Antique Taco on Urbanspoon

Tandoor Char House — Indian Goes Barbecue

Tandoor Char House

During one of my days off for my birthday earlier this month, I did a fair share of casual strolling through one of the neighbourhoods to the east of my neighbourhood. Lincoln Park is known for quite a bit of activity and offers a lot of restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and novelty shops for pedestrians. Much like a lot of areas in Chicago, there are some establishments that you may never notice or you may pass and simply never give a second glance. Tandoor Char House at 2652 N. Halsted Street is one of those places that rang true for me, given I spent most of my strolling on Halsted Street in Greektown.

Salad

Salad

For my first visit, I craved Indian-specific dishes. The craving was more of a need for pandering to a food addiction rather than merely wanting some spicy Indian food on my palate. I didn’t waste any time looking at the menu. I rattled off two dishes that are common on all Indian menus — chana masala and chicken tikka masala.

Chana Masala

Chana Masala

Having had Indian food without it being spicy a few times as of late, I requested that my dishes come blooming with pepper. The temperatures outside were moderately chilly, so I could stand the heat. The chana masala left me happy. And I was quite cultural with my use of the poori to devour the tasty chickpeas. I think this may be my all-time favourite Indian dish and seeing that Tandoor Char House had served up perfection, I ordered some for take-away.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

The chicken tikka masala was a splendid accompaniment to the chana masala. Usually chicken tikka masala has a thin yet flavourful gravy. This dish at Tandoor Char House reminded me of chicken makhani, rich in gravy and accented with butter. The tamarind rice that came with it worked wonders on the tongue. There was a mild zest to the rice since it was not regular basmati rice and it also worked well with the chana masala.

Mango Cheesecake

Mango Cheesecake

Truly my appetite was out of control for I had eaten everything. I even used the poori to get the last bit of gravy from the serving dishes. I requested twenty minutes of downtime in preparation for dessert. Kulfi? Gulab jamun? Gajar ka halwa? Kheer? No, I had a slice of mango cheesecake. The thing about the restaurant being empty when I went was that I let my facial expression have a complete go of it without me feeling embarrassed about my version of appreciation. Topped with crushed pistachios and drizzled with mango sauce, this slice of heaven could have Cheesecake Factory scrambling for a tastier cheesecake.


Having eaten too much during my first visit to Tandoor Char House, I decided that it would be wise to return another day for a sampling of something different. First for tempting the palate were tamarind chicken wings. I didn’t see a need to be prim, evident from me using my fingers to pick up the wings and delight myself properly. I even licked my fingers when I was done, and I didn’t blush with shame for being so comfortable.

Tamarind Chicken

Tamarind Chicken

Tandoori dishes are usually something that I skip at Indian restaurants, mostly because I love the curry dishes. Today I opted for tandoori shrimp. Brought to the table on a skillet, you could see the steam rising from the plump shrimp, bell peppers, and onions. This dish came with tamarind rice and a makhani sauce. By the time I had finished devouring this addictive dish, I wondered why I had never succumbed to any tandoori dishes other than the usual complimentary tandoori chicken that most Indian restaurants serve during lunch buffets.

Tandoori Shrimp

Tandoori Shrimp

While I let my tummy settle from the tamarind chicken and tandoori shrimp dish, I had a pakola. This Pakistani drink is a cream soda and the one that I had seemed to have a hint of rose-water in it. So, my three favourite carbonated drinks that also happen to be the only carbonated drinks I will have are piña Jarritos, mandarin Jarritos, and pakola.

Pakola

Pakola

For my finale, I ordered a fusion dish — penne tikka masala with shrimp. I had tried to convince myself not to indulge a curry or a dish with a gravy, but I was rather curious as to how the penne with tikka masala would taste. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it left me with a smear of gravy at the corner of my lips. Imagine Italian meets Indian. This was a luscious marriage. And served with garlic naan, if I had a microphone, I would have dropped it on the floor as I slowly got up from the table and dragged myself out into the streets.

Penne Tikka Masala with Shrimp

Penne Tikka Masala with Shrimp

Tandoor Char House has a small seating area in a loft section of the restaurant. For my two visits, this is where I sat. However, there looks to be a downstairs section that may be an extension of the restaurant that fills up during busy hours. The table service has been great during my visits and I am surprised when the tab comes and it’s not as hefty as I think it would be. Far be it from me to complain. It only means that I can be certain to keep going back to Tandoor Char House and stuffing myself senselessly without worrying about a pricey bill. Hmm. I’ll let you know after my next visit.

Tandoor Char House on Urbanspoon

That Little Mexican Cafe, a Bryn Mawr Favourite

The Little Mexican Cafe

For my birthday weekend, I took a few days off following the weekend to have some proper time for myself. That meant staying up late, sleeping later in the morning, and eating, the latter being a given. I had been going to the Bryn Mawr corridor for quite a bit of dining options. I had gone to Little India Restaurant on Friday and to Little Vietnam Restaurant on Saturday. Isn’t it cute how the restaurants have “Little” in the names? Well, only a block away from both is a restaurant named That Little Mexican Cafe at 1055 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue. Having acknowledged that I have become a fan of the other two “Little” restaurants, I had to see if That Little Mexican Cafe would become a big part of my life.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and Salsa

This is not a hole-in-the-wall. I guess it falls more in line with being a medium-sized restaurant with hole-in-the-wall authenticity. The atmosphere detracts from it falling into the big box category. You do feel like you have gone to a friend’s home, mostly from the setting, and that is a very good thing if you rank customer service over ambience. There were complimentary chips and salsa that I later raved about to friends endlessly later in the afternoon.

Guacamole

Guacamole

With me doing something like an extended birthday celebration from the weekend, I still had a Frankenstein monster appetite. Considering this was a new restaurant to me and my intentions were to try something I haven’t had from any other Mexican restaurants, I was still curious as to the guacamole. I’ve had so much guacamole that I should be tired of it. But the tableside guacamole that I got at That Little Mexican Restaurant is the BEST that I have had outside of Distrito Federal. This was chunky guacamole, not puréed. They recognized that avocado already has a creamy texture, and chose not to mess that up by turning it into a coarse pudding.

Taquitos Pollos

Taquitos Pollos

The next menu items I wanted to try were taquitos pollos. Imagine small corn tortilla chicken tacos fried to a perfect crisp. Served over a bed of lettuce, tomato, and crumbled cheese, these are fantastic snacks. I was expecting only a few, no more than four. There were eight. And by the time I finished gnashing away on those little treats, there were only a few shreds of lettuce on the plate. I have had taquitos at several Mexican corner stores that were tops and some from a few Americanized restaurants that failed. The taquitos at That Little Mexican Cafe rank up there with “worthy of ordering.”

Cazuela Camarones

Cazuela Camarones

Not wanting to order a chicken or beef dish that would have left me stuffed, I ordered a cazuela camarones. Plump shrimp in a spicy red sauce served over Spanish rice never tasted better. The sauce had a smoky flavour that made the dish reminiscent of a barbecue.  I was not expecting such a pop to the dish and it may have been because I had been so accustomed to ordering tacos, enchiladas, tostados, carne asada, and Tex-Mex that I missed trying other fare like the seafood dish that I was completely enthralled with. For full disclosure, I ordered some more for take-away, along with another side of rice and the delicious black beans.

Arroz con Frijoles

Arroz con Frijoles

 

By the time I did my slow walk out of That Little Mexican Cafe, there were two main things that stuck with me. They do the best guacamole in Chicago. I will go even say that it is better than any guacamole I have had in America, so far. Second is that menu items outside of the usual Mexican fare are outstanding, really, really, very outstanding. Another thing I noticed is that the flavours are not watered down. My server did warn me that the cazuela camarones was spicy and I was very happy that the order went through accommodating my request for the dish to be spicy the way it is served in homes in Mexico. With reasonable prices for the meal, especially given how much I had eaten and ordered for take-away, there is nothing little about That Little Mexican Cafe.

That Little Mexican Cafe on Urbanspoon

Little Vietnam Restaurant, Big Taste

Little Vietnam Restaurant

Anyone who has been to the Bryn Mawr corridor between Broadway Avenue and Sheridan Road in Chicago will notice that the area is clearly vying for being the city’s cultural hub. Anyone who is a xenophile would fall in love with the multi ethnicities and the new cultural restaurants that are taking up occupancy. One of my favourite Indian eateries is just at the Red Line stop at Bryn Mawr and there is an outstanding Thai restaurant all about thirty paces away from the Indian restaurant. Recently I found that what was once a closed business has now opened its doors as a Vietnamese restaurant. It may be that the Argyle corridor is saturated and competition could be strong for Little Vietnam Restaurant, which is at 1132 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue, but it’s location on Bryn Mawr poises it to be one of the select go-to spots.

Iced Coffee

Iced Coffee

Egg Rolls

Egg Rolls

Spacious, light, and airy, Little Vietnam Restaurant looks like it could be small when looking at it from the outside. Once you get inside, you find a rather large room and some very accommodating service. There are a lot of traditional Vietnamese dishes on the menu. Those who are fans of phos, will not be disappointed. However, there is enough variety that you will not feel as if you have arrived at one of the Argyle dining establishments that seemingly have a formula well suited for the American palate, so as not to provoke a tarnishing write-up on social media.

I started with an iced coffee and crunchy egg rolls served with a sweet and tangy dipping sauce. For those who act bananas before their third cup of morning coffee, they should try the iced coffee at Little Vietnam Restaurant. And the baby egg rolls were outstanding. Deep fried pastries stuffed with pork, shrimp, carrots, taro, cabbage, and glass noodle had very little success staying on the plate. Although there were only three, they were filling.

Lemongrass Chicken

Lemongrass Chicken

Having had several bowls of pho over the past few weeks, I opted for something different. There was a menu listing for lemongrass chicken. I wanted a dish that was spicy, considering the temperatures in Chicago had been waffling between warm and chilly to the point of messing with my sinuses. Well, spicy food does a great job of correcting my sinus trouble and having a dish as tasty as lemongrass chicken was not a bad option. After the first few bites, I wondered where the spice was. And then a minute later, there was the feeling of heat rising from my scalp and the ring of fire around my lips. I can’t tell you how satisfied I was. Only a few restaurants can add burn to their recipes and still have flavour in the dishes. Little Vietnam Restaurant did it correctly with the lemongrass chicken.

After a few minutes of chatting with the server about the cameras I was using, she being engaging since she has been taking photography seriously, I let some time pass before indulging a dessert. There were two options. The was a yogurt that was served with watermelon and there was Vietnamese pudding. Still recognizing that it was chilly outside, I had the pudding instead. Now, Vietnamese pudding does not have the consistency of Jell-O pudding. It’s thin, full of miniature tapioca pearls and sweet potatoes. As to flavour, think lychee. My server was telling me about how her grandmother prepared the pudding, practically making a medley of things to taste. The pudding was well suited to my taste, for sure.

Vietnamese Pudding

Vietnamese Pudding

Little Vietnam Restaurant seems like a fantastic spot for mid afternoon. The Bryn Mawr corridor tends to be action packed and congested with lots of pedestrian traffic in the late afternoons, so the restaurant may have a constant ebb and tide of patrons. Those who have frequented the Vietnamese restaurants on Argyle, which is only two stops south on the Red Line, will find Little Vietnam Restaurant to be a pleasant surprise. The service was superb, something that is rare coming from those of the younger generation, but absolute top here. As to the prices, they are extremely reasonable, which could explain a lot of dine-in and carry-out orders I noticed during my dining experience. Little Vietnam is a welcome addition to Bryn Mawr. Those with appetites can attest to that.

Little Vietnam on Urbanspoon

Starting the Morning at Bite Cafe

Bite Cafe

Going for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings in Chicago can be rather discouraging. Many breakfast spots have long lines outside and crowded waiting areas inside. If you are like me and you are not a fan of waiting a long time for something to eat, you end up preparing your own breakfast at home. And then you stumble upon Bite Cafe.

Coffee with Cream

Coffee with Cream

It could be that I arrived as soon as they opened for business because the restaurant did start to fill up later, but not such that patrons had to wait outside for a seat. This was a huge plus. Quite cozy on the inside, Bite Cafe does not fit the big box or even medium size restaurants. Not of the hole-in-the-wall variety, but definitely inviting, my appetite and I were rather happy.

Scrambled Eggs and Mashedbrown

Scrambled Eggs and Mashedbrown

I ordered mashedbrown, eggs scrambled well with Gruyère cheese, and the challah bread French toast. The mashedbrown was a potato cake that I’d buy in bulk and eat in the mornings for a breakfast snack. And since I was able to get Gruyère cheese in my eggs rather than American, jack, or cheddar cheese, I was in love. The French toast was so blooming good that it didn’t require any more syrup than the maple syrup drizzle that came on it. The hazelnut butter and banana creme anglaise gave flavour without making the toast excessively sweet.

Challah Bread French Toast

Challah Bread French Toast

So, it seems that Bite Cafe also has lunch and dinner menus. I shall have to return after work one of the days to check out those offerings. The breakfast set was definitely good enough for me to consider several more mornings visits.

Bite Cafe on Urbanspoon

La Sirena Clandestina, Vai, Vai, Vai

La Sirena Clandestina

Chicago’s West Loop district has proven to be something of a Wonderland. I was already aware of the many restaurants and cafes that dotted the landscape. However, I never ventured into the meat packing district of the West Loop, except for once to meet some friends at a pork-centric restaurant that spiked my blood pressure. And I had forgotten about another high-end restaurant named Moto that I’d gladly go back to if it were not for the fact that the price for the meal would nibble considerably at my play budget. Nevertheless, there are some gems in the area I haven’t visited and one that suited my fancy was La Sirena Clandestina at 954 W. Fulton Market. At the recommendation of a colleague, I got to sample some loving from the kitchen with a heavy Brazilian influence.

Caipirinha

Caipirinha

Having arrived early after work, I had a pick of seats near the window. I had to sit where I could take advantage of the late sunset, considering the restaurant looked like it gets rather dark. On entry, the guy who seated me kept asking if we knew each other. This has been an ongoing inquiry for the past few months. And I never manage to run into my doppelganger. After he had detected my accent, he then realized we had never met and he then told me to get a caipirinha for a cocktail, as I would not be sorry. Wow! Wow! Wow! Strong, flavourful, refreshing, and addictive are just a few words that had come to mind after the first few sips. My lookalike had to have been a good friend because he started with an outstanding suggestion.

Empanadas: Ropa Vieja and Squash

Empanadas: Ropa Vieja and Squash

Because I am a lightweight, I had to have something to start balancing out the alcohol in the caipirinha. The server had recommended the empanadas if I were one who enjoyed indulging them. I didn’t think I could go wrong with empanadas, so I ordered two, a ropa vieja — old clothes — and a squash. The Best Actor Award for keeping a straight face and trying not to squeal with food bliss goes to me. The barbecue sauce in the ropa vieja had a faint hint of goat cheese in it, which added an extra flavour that made me love that empanada even more. I have no words to describe how much the squash empanada made me want to smack the table. Those empanadas were nothing short of heaven in baked pastries.

Black Beans and Rice

Black Beans and Rice

As always, my food alarm was ringing and I was buzzing from the caipirinha. So, I ordered a side of black beans and rice to get me worked up to a masterpiece entree item. Accented with pork, but not overloaded with it, this dish reminded me of red beans and rice and how much I loved that dish when I was a kid sitting at my grandmother’s table. I was thankful that, unlike some black beans and rice I’ve had at a restaurant I will not name, the dish was not salty. And then came the moqueca. Different from moqueca that I have had before, it was still good enough for me to have wanted to tip the bowl and slurp afterwards. The stew seemed to lack coconut milk in the base and instead of rice, there were lentils in the dish. The mussels, prawns, and tilapia were fresh and I was happy. I was happier with the second, accompanying caipirinha.

Moqueca

Moqueca

By the time I had finished everything, I should have left well enough alone. I couldn’t. I had to have more. But I had to wait. There was some dessert that needed to be loved and I had to love it unconditionally, which meant without feeling I would be too stuffed to complete a sweet. Thankful that I had my Kindle Fire with me, I read a few chapters of a book and then was ready for action again. I ordered a plate of almond cake with slices of blood orange and some almonds atop a creme anglaise. Looking at the almond cake, I thought it was going to have the consistency of cornbread. It had the texture of a cloud and without being too sweet, it was a rather flavourful cloud. Because the caipirinhas were doing this “Your eyes are getting very, very heavy” thing to me, I needed some coffee to counter my food and drink comatose. When I was done with the cake, I smacked the table.

Almond Cake

Almond Cake

The beauty of La Sirena Clandestina is that while it is small compared to some of the big box restaurants in the West Loop, diners are not rushed. It seems like a rather great place to go for a date — or to meet before a tryst. Okay, so it’s not that kind of place, but there is an atmosphere of ease that makes it a very inviting restaurant. Add to that some delicious food, and you have the makings of a food magnet. I didn’t have the feijoada, which is a traditional Brazilian dish like moqueca, so I can’t say if all of the dishes are variations of what is served in Brazil. What I will say is that La Sirena Clandestina is in my slideshow.

Vai, vai, vai, vai, vai. (What Bossa Nova songs is that from?)

La Sirena Clandestina on Urbanspoon

Cafe Bella, Latin American Addiction

Cafe Bella

Recently, I decided to donate my car to charity. Now I use public transportation to navigate the city and I also do a lot of walking. Well, after quite a bit of walking through my neighbourhood, I have stumbled upon a few small restaurants that I have since added to my list of eateries to sample for Chicago Alphabet Soup. One of those restaurants became a go-to spot for a Sunday afternoon rather than waiting outside some brunch spot to get inside for the usual chicken and waffles, shrimp and cheese grits, and mimosa. Okay, so that may not be the main items on brunch menus, but Cafe Bella at 3311 W. Fullerton Avenue in Logan Square promised to have something more inviting. They fulfilled that promised.

Cafe Azteca

Cafe Azteca

With the weather being frosty outside, I wanted something to warm me up. Seeing the usual listing of coffees, what stood out most was the cafe Azteca. Had there not been others sitting near me, I would have slurped it. Many restaurants serve up Nestle’s Quik or Hershey’s cocoa in warm milk — or water — mildly highlighted with cayenne pepper. There was no grit from any cocoa powder not having been mixed thoroughly. The marriage of espresso and cocoa was smooth, slightly peppered, and topped with a drizzle of chocolate syrup, cinnamon, and whipped cream. Let’s just say that one mug was not enough.

Pesto Shrimp

Pesto Shrimp

For a starter, I was in a mood for seafood. I ordered pesto shrimp. This came as a dish of five plump, grilled shrimp, well-seasoned and accented with a homemade pesto sauce over a fresh salad. If you go to Cafe Bella and plan to have a good bit to eat, add the pesto shrimp to your list. It’s light in terms of portions, but it is loaded with flavour. There was not one disappointing bite, except for the last one because I did not want it to end.

Quesadillas Pollo

Quesadillas Pollo

Next for sampling were chicken quesadillas served with homemade guacamole. The quesadillas had a twist to them. First, the tortillas were prepared with a tomato base. Quesadillas are customarily made with plain flour tortillas, but I must admit that the tomato base was a nice addition. Second, the chef had run low on chihuahua cheese, so there was an improvisation of adding Swiss cheese. I noticed that there wasn’t the faint taste of chihuahua cheese only and the server had kindly explained that the extra kick in the flavour was from the inclusion of Swiss cheese in the recipe. Surprisingly, it was not a bad modification and with the homemade guacamole dip on the side, there were no complaints from me.

Tour de Bella

Tour de Bella

Realizing that I had room for perhaps an entrée, there was one that I figured would be a good option for trying steak, chicken, and shrimp all in one dish. The Tour de Bella was it — strips of chicken breast, succulent shrimp, and steak served with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes with brown gravy. I had looked at some of the photos of the dish online before going to Cafe Bella and thought it looked rather appetizing. When it arrived at the table, it looked too picturesque to devour. If I were indecisive, I would have just stared at it. But I went to work on the dish to completion. The shrimp was fresh. The chicken was juicy. The steak was tender. I was one satisfied customer. And I ordered that second cafe Azteca for my wrap-up.

The menu at Cafe Bella seems to cover Latin American cuisine without being specific to any country. If you have had any Latin American dishes, they are certainly not exactly the same, but they are outstanding with chicken, shrimp, steak, and other meat dishes that have enough flavour verve to keep you returning for more. Cafe Bella has a quaint atmosphere, which is good for solo dining or meeting with a few friends. It is not a big box restaurant and although there is a mild coffeehouse feel to the place, the food is definitely a guarantee for making you become a regular customer. And because there is an open kitchen theme to the restaurant, seeing your food cooked in your presence screams, “Welcome to my home.” I’ll be back for a longer stay next time. I bet you will, too.

Cafe Bella on Urbanspoon

Sable Saves the Evening

A few weekends ago my adventurous sister and I decided that we wanted to try another seafood restaurant. One seafood restaurant just north of downtown had been spoken of highly in reviews, so we opted to see if it was worthy of the high praise. Upon entry, it was clear that the restaurant was a great place to go for having drinks. However, the sazerac that I had left me wondering if I was missing something. And after a forced meal of dishes that looked appetizing, but weren’t, my sister and I were on the hunt for a Plan B. She had mentioned a neighbouring restaurant not far from the seafood restaurant, so we were off to overcompensate for the hunger pains that were overtaking us.

Sable

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

 

We went to Sable at 505 N. State Street in Hotel Palomar. Crowded at the bar with a large seating area for those who want to have a dining experience, Sable seemed like it would be an ideal Plan B. It was. We took a seat in the dining area without having to wait and the server was over to the table to explain the menu, make note of some specials, and offer suggestions. With it being cold outside, my sister started with an Easy Livin’ drink — her way of projecting herself onto a sunny beach. I had an alcoholic beverage that was more like a hot toddy with a nice amount of brandy, a hint of chocolate, some bitters, and bliss. I really don’t know exactly what was in the concoction, but I will say that it was a thousand miles better than the sazerac I’d had earlier that I swear was water with a splash of whiskey and absinthe.

Understanding that we had arrived late, we settled on two items that we knew would do well to ease the growling in our bellies and replace our scowls with smiles. There were creamed corn brulee and mussels. Creamed corn is an appetizing dish all on its own. Having a brulee crust atop of it did not detract from the dish. Actually, this was one item that I have been ranting and raving about since I went to Sable. The other was a huge bowl of mussels in a white wine sauce with garlic and garlic toast on the side. Hello, mussels. Good bye, Dracula. The last time we recalled having mussels as delicious as the ones we had at Sable was when we had gone to Autre Monde in Berwyn, Illinois. Those little morsels were greeted with insatiable appetites and gnashing teeth. Not to let any of the sauce go to waste, we soaked the toast in the sauce and devoured it to complete satisfaction.

 

For our finale, we ordered sorbet — blood orange and blackberry basil. These two scoops were what dreams of made of. Accompanied with berries and dainty cookie crisps, I read my sister’s mind when she was saying to herself, “This is where we should have come from the start.” Sable was an excellent contingency plan.

It may be the weekends or it may be every evening, but the bar section of Sable fills up quickly with a motley crew of lively patrons. Most restaurants in Chicago accept reservations and Sable may be a participating restaurant that does the same. Considering how good the food is for a hotel restaurant, I understand the crowd. What we had, albeit not a lot for our visit, was fine dining without fine dining prices. Those who are looking for a great restaurant with perfect drinks and outstanding food, make Sable your first choice if you are in the River North and Near North area of downtown. You will not be disappointed.

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Waffling About Waffles Cafe

Waffles CafeSeveral times I have mentioned my love for breakfast, which may be at any time of the day. The thing is in Chicago most breakfast spots pack out within the first fifteen minutes of the doors opening for business. This past weekend I decided to get out of bed early enough to try a restaurant that was supposedly known for wonuts — waffles prepared like doughnuts. Well, after a bit of waffling around, I figured I would add my experience to Chicago Alphabet Soup.

Waffles Cafe in Chicago’s Lakeview neighbourhood at 3611 N. Broadway was my destination for sampling a variety of different waffles. It is neither a big box nor is it a hole in the wall. Small in size, but still comfy, it’s a sweet spot for some breakfast bliss. Upon entry, the host was a bit of a space cadet. That all changed when the camera came out of the bag. My server was outstanding and recognized that I was ready to release the Kraken — that being my appetite. Actually, I think she heard my stomach growling, as did the two at the table next to me who started snickering.

Waffles Cafe, Collage

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I had checked out the menu online on the bus ride to the restaurant, so I had an idea of what I wanted. However, there were so many options. So I decided to do a flight — a flight of hot chocolate and a flight of waffles. The hot chocolate came in dainty little cups. There were caramel, Mexican hot chocolate, and toasted marshmallow. Now that I have a lumberjack beard, complete with wild moustache, each sip left whipped cream across my upper lip making my moustache match the white in my beard at the chin. Each flavour had won me over to the point where I wanted another flight. I had to wait on that to see if my belly would be okay with another flight, considering I had ordered a flight of waffles.

Now, I have had a flight of pancakes at Orange in Roscoe Village and thought those were cute. What I got at Waffles Cafe was more than I had expected. There were four waffles — green tea, Mexican chocolate, red velvet topped with strawberries, and liege with apple compote. One thing I must say is that the waffles had a hint of the flavouring. All while I worked my knife and fork on the breakfast beauties, I wondered if the taste had been a little more prominent if I would have liked the waffles more than I did. Given I didn’t use any syrup, the accompanying dollops of flavoured whipped cream were perfect as highlights. My favourite was the Mexican chocolate, and I swear that was a hint of Kahlua in the recipe. The green tea waffle was my second favourite, followed by the red velvet waffle, and finally by the liege waffle.

There were several customers who had come in to get to buy wonuts for take-away. The wonuts looked inviting, all of a variety of offerings — chocolate covered, cinnamon coated, drizzled, Oreo crusted, blueberry, and other options. I had bought some doughnuts from Somethin’ Sweet in the Cragin neighbourhood, so I did “window shopping” only just to see what wonuts were available in case I should return to Waffles Cafe. Overall, I enjoyed the breakfast and will go back soon, considering I did not have to stand outside waiting for a seat the way you have to at most breakfast shops on the North Side. Many may not be a fan of the waffles not being packed with sugar. If you’re adding syrup, a waffle upping your glucose level may not be a wise delicacy to indulge. But to each his or her own. And to me, I have just made a calendar notice for a return visit in the upcoming weekends.

No more waffling. Release the Kraken!

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