Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

When friends come to visit Chicago, I often wonder where to take them for a proper Taste of Chicago. Many come with expectations of going to the usual tourist traps: Cheesecake Factory, any of the Chicago style pizzeria restaurants, some sports bar in Wrigleyville, Garrett’s Popcorn shop, and a few other dated restaurants like Hard Rock Café and Planet Rock. But you can get that fare from anywhere. Then again, I pick restaurants from a self-serving standpoint. If I’m treating, I’m getting what I want. With my recent guest, they did not want to go to any tourist magnets. They wanted international fare was.

Tej Addis Abeba Martini

After an afternoon of taking advantage of Shedd Aquarium, I offered up the suggestion for some Ethiopian food. So, we were off to Demera Ethiopian Restaurant at 4801 N Broadway Street. Nice and spacious on the inside, welcoming and homey per the service, this was a great option. We started with a glass of tej, which is honey wine, or rather the nectar of God. And there was the refreshing Addis Ababa martini.

Ethiopian Platter

Because this was my first dining experience at Demera Ethiopian Restaurant, I wanted to sample a few items from the menu. We had the doro wot. This came as two chicken legs in a rich barbecue gravy accented with ginger root, garlic, and onions and ayib cheese. There was ye-siga wot, which was the beef version of the doro wot. For vegetables, we ordered the split red lentils ye-misir wot and there was also the ye-dinich ena carrot alicha, consisting of potatoes and carrots stewed with onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric and special house seasoning. The ye-shimbra assa, ground chickpeas in a wot sauce, rounded out our vegetarian selections. And the ye-asa wot was the final offering that we opted for as a seafood selection. All served atop injera and with extra injera, there was only a smear of gravy on the platter when we were done.

Ethiopian Tiramisu

Not being in a rush, we sat and let our stomachs settle before requesting menus for perusal of desserts.  I ordered an Ethiopian style tiramisu. Instead of ladyfingers having been soaked in espresso, they had been soaked in Ethiopian buna, or Ethiopian coffee. The robust flavor of Ethiopian coffee actually makes the dessert have a stronger taste while not leaving an aftertaste. Drizzled with chocolate sauce, this was heaven. And if heaven wasn’t good enough, the sambussa definitely was perfection. The pastry was filled with with almonds, walnuts, cardamom, rose water, and saffron, and served over a homemade raspberry sauce that was not from a can, box, or jar.

Sambussa

Chicago’s Uptown neighbourhood is a location filled with many African restaurants and there is a lot of representation in Ethiopian dining. Demera is indeed one restaurant with an inviting atmosphere. Starting with a welcoming air, it is most delightful once the food arrives. For those who are not familiar with Ethiopian dining, the injera, which is the bread, is used for picking up the food. While the servers may accommodate those who prefer to use eating utensils,  the tradition way of eating Ethiopian food actually makes the experience fantastic. And if you go with a large group, it is a most beautiful way of sharing — food that is.


Click to add a blog post for Demera Ethiopian on Zomato

Nando’s Peri-Peri, More Delicious Comes to Lakeview

Nando's Peri-Peri

After having a good bit of my weekend usurped with my day job and juggling several photography assignments, I needed a moment to replenish myself. I sent a text message to a great friend mentioning a certain restaurant we had passed by a few weeks ago and when the response came back saying, “Let’s do it,” I grabbed my camera and headed to Nando’s Peri-Peri at 670 W. Diversey Parkway.

Sangria

Sangria

With the temperatures still being humid, I opted for something to cool me off. I can’t say that the red wine sangria I ordered was the best option for taking the sting out of the heat that we were experiencing, but I was quite okay, nevertheless, by the second glass. And it was certainly enough to make me forget about work for a moment.

Corn, Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Corn, Garlic Mashed Potatoes

When temperatures are in the 90’s and muggy, I usually try not to eat too much food. Well, I must be honest and admit that I don’t try that hard. I ordered a half chicken spicy, a side of Portuguese rice, mashed potatoes, and garlic bread. Just when the cashier was about to ring up my order, I interrupted with an order for grilled corn on the cob. Every bit of it was delicious. Succulent chicken, mashed potatoes that didn’t taste like they had been prepared from powdered mix, rice that wasn’t sticky, sweet corn on the cob, and garlic bread that was not toast, I was one satisfied customer. And I earned my extra stripes for being an active member of the Clean Plate Society.

Half Chicken, Portuguese Rice, Garlic Bread

Half Chicken, Portuguese Rice, Garlic Bread

Nando’s Peri-Peri has somewhat of a big box feel to it, as far as size of the interior. But there is something more homey about the experience. Much like the Nando’s Peri-Peri that I first experienced in Washington, DC, the food is consistently great. I shall definitely return several more times over the next few months to sample some other items from the menu. For those who are in the Lakeview neighbourhood or passing through, stop in, put your feet under a table, and let your taste buds know that Nando’s Peri-Peri can bring about a smile to your face, or at least a smear of gravy to the corner of your mouth.

Click to add a blog post for Nando's Peri-Peri on Zomato

Jerky Jerk, No Jerking Around

Gino at Jerky Jerk

With the temperatures in Chicago now feeling consistently tropical, I had started getting more into a Caribbean frame of mind. Recognizing that there are a few Caribbean restaurants in the Chicago metropolitan area, most of them I have gone to already, I was on the hunt for a different spot. A great friend had mentioned Jerky Jerk in Chicago’s Rogers Park at 1217 W. Devon Avenue.

Beef Patty

Beef Patty

There are traditional dishes that I always get whenever I go to Jamaican restaurants. Beef patties are one of them. Unlike some beef patties that I’ve gotten at a few other Jamaican restaurants, the ones at Jerky Jerk were stuffed with meat. There were no air pockets in these, and with them being spicy, I ordered five more for take-away.

Curry Chicken, Rice and Bean, Cabbage

Curry Chicken, Rice and Bean, Cabbage

I hadn’t had curry chicken in months and I had an appetite for some in a major way. Spicy and loaded with Caribbean taste, the plate of tender chicken with rice and peas and cabbage really made my day. And because I had been in the gym, I was not full even after the plate of curry chicken. So, I had some Mrs. Brown chicken stew with more rice and peas and more cabbage. I can’t say exactly what spices were in the recipe other than what seemed like a marriage of curry and jerk seasoning. What I can say is that I was more than happy to order more of the curry chicken and Mrs. Brown stew chicken for taking home with me.

Mrs. Brown Stew Chicken, Rice and Beans, Cabbage

Brown Stew Chicken, Rice and Beans, Cabbage

Jerky Jerk is more like a walk-up. There are only a few tables in the dining area and chances are there are several other Jamaicans in the dining room having a go of it in Patois. The atmosphere is very much like what you experience when you are in Jamaica. And the food is definitely prepared full of flavour the way it is on that wonderful Caribbean island. I think my paternal grandparents would have been pleased.

Click to add a blog post for Jerky Jerk Caribbean Grille on Zomato

N.O.K., Noon O Kabab Sister Restaurant

N.O.K. Fine Persian Food

Now that summer is in full swing, I have been rather busy and that has cut into a lot of the free time that I had been devoting to food discovery in Chicago. And with the constant threat of thunderstorms on top of the heat and humidity, I had not been outside except for going to work. However, I gave in to my appetite and resumed my hunt for culinary satisfaction. In keeping with my jaunts, I ventured to the far northwest neighbourhood of Norwood Park to N.O.K. Fine Persian Food at 6075 N. Milwaukee Avenue.

Persian Chicken, Rice, Salad

Persian Chicken, Rice, Salad

Bamieh and Persian Tea

Bamieh and Persian Tea

Unlike Noon O Kabob, which is the sister restaurant to N.O.K., there is no table service. You order at the counter and then take a pick of seats. Playing it safe, I ordered the joujeh plate for a main dish and bamieh with Persian tea for the finale. The joujeh were tender cubes of chicken breast served over Persian rice with salad. Each bite was an explosion thanks to the chicken being juicy, but without being undercooked. The bamieh were little doughnuts that had been accented with honey, very rich, and extremely delectable. Accompanied with a glass of Persian tea, they were perfect as a wrap-up for a Saturday afternoon lunch.

Joujeh Plate

Joujeh Plate

One thing I noted upon entry at N.O.K. was that there were other Iranians in the restaurant. If you want to know exactly how authentic the food is, pay attention to the patrons. If there are others representative of the ethnicity in the restaurant, chances are they are regular customers who enjoy flavours from home. Although there is no table service, the service from behind the counter is very relaxed and accommodating. During my first visit to Noon O Kabab, I was blown away by the welcoming atmosphere and outstanding flavours. Well, the sister restaurant N.O.K. is proof that there is consistency in the Persian/Iranian eateries in Chicago.

Click to add a blog post for N.O.K. on Zomato

Lula Cafe, Been So Long

Lula Cafe

When family visits, I avoid downtown tourist traps. Coming from cultural hubs like New York City, Toronto, Montreal, and London, nothing can kill an enjoyable stay in Chicago like going to some establishment and faking a smile throughout the experience. And when Caribbeans start sucking their teeth, you have to redeem yourself quickly. Well, during my sister’s visit, I took her to several ethnic restaurants where I have gone already and to a few restaurants where I have not been. Lula Cafe at 2537 N. Kedzie Boulevard in Logan Square is one cafe that I bypassed for years because of arriving late and having to wait for almost an hour for a seat.

La Piña Coronado

La Piña Coronado

Penicillin

Penicillin

With fantastic temperatures finally gracing Chicago, we had waited for an outdoor seat so that we could soak up some sun, feel the breeze, and enjoy some brunch. Since no brunch is complete without a cocktail, we had one apiece for starters. My sister had a la piña coronado, which definitely screamed Caribbean. The recipe of agricole, amaretto, pineapple, coconut made for quite a refreshing cocktail. I am a fan of scotch, so I had the penicillin. The combination of scotch and ginger was a winner, for true.

Scrambled Eggs with Cream Cheese

Scrambled Eggs with Cream Cheese

Having eaten something only a few hours before arriving at Lula Cafe, my sister ordered pancakes and scrambled eggs. To hear her describe them, they were tasty pillows accented with confectioners sugar. One highlight that certainly cannot be missed was the apple chicken sausage. Either the sausage was grilled or there was some liquid smoke used in the recipe, for it tasted like it had been smoked at a backyard barbecue. For me, I had scrambled eggs with cream cheese. And for the main brunch item, I ordered brioche French toast that was crusted with pistachios and topped with raspberries. The French toast was so good that it didn’t require any syrup. This French toast may be one of the main reasons why there is a constant crowd at the cafe.

French Toast with Berries

French Toast with Berries

Lula Cafe is a small cafe with limited seating inside and some patio seating outside. It seems as though there is a constant tide of customers and I imagine the ebb is during closing only. Even then, the service is fantastic. The output from the kitchen reminds me of home cooking, not restaurant cooking, and this may also be something what customers find so inviting. I had been tempted to take my sister into downtown to one of the numerous breakfast spots, but I am glad that I decided to go to a place closer to my apartment. I only have to remember to arrive as soon as the doors open when I go again.

Click to add a blog post for Lula Cafe on Zomato

Glenn’s Diner And I Don’t Mean Burgers, Fries, and Malts

When I think of diners, what comes to mind are burgers, fries, and milk shakes. And then you go to a neighbourhood like Ravenswood and find that the local diner is a seafood restaurant. You smile. Well, I smiled.

Glenn's Diner, Collage

Click to view larger photos in Flickr album

Let me start by saying that I had an aggressive appetite. CrossFit and kickboxing early in the morning had already worn me out, but in a good way. However, such intense workouts crank my appetite and I obey. Glenn’s Diner at 1820 W. Montrose Avenue certainly fits the bill for satisfying one’s craving.

Starting with brunch, I loved the chocolate chip waffle drizzled with chocolate syrup. Loved the scramble eggs with cheddar cheese. When brunch was done, I waited about 20 minutes, got my second wind, and then had the tuna tartar with chips. Raw tuna compacted together with avocado and onions. Delicious. And then I had halibut with potatoes and asparagus. Talk about flaky fish and everything being seasoned without being overdone. The jambalaya with cornbread was out of this world, although it didn’t come with rice. It was closer to the jambalaya that I’ve had in New Orleans than the attempts I’ve had at other New Orleans style restaurants in Chicago.

Jambalaya and Cornbread

Click to view video in Flickr

There is a constant flow of patrons coming and going at Glenn’s Diner. During midday the crowd was light. Given the breakfast was good, I imagine the morning crowd fills the restaurant. The food is certain worthy, so I can understand if the restaurant stays crowded. I’ll be a part of the constant crowd from now on, for true. So glad they were not about burgers, fries, and milk shakes.

Click to add a blog post for Glenn's Diner on Zomato

One, Two, Three, Pho 55

Pho 55

In previous posts, I have mentioned how Hyde Park has been undergoing changes. And these are welcomed changes. I have gone to a few of the new establishments on 53rd Street. However, there are a few pockets in Hyde Park that bear surprises. Pho 55 at 1611 E. 55th Street is one of those surprises. What was once a Middle Eastern restaurant for years is now a Vietnamese restaurant with some delicious menu items for those who are open to sampling dishes from Vietnam.

Lemongrass and Lime

Lemongrass and Lime

Coming in from humid temperatures, I was in the mood for something refreshing. I asked for a recommendation from the server and she told me that the lemongrass and lime drink would be a good option. I accepted the recommendation. I was glad that I accepted the recommendation. It was akin to a marriage of lemonade, limeade, and a hint of club soda.

Deep Fried Wonton Sheet

Deep Fried Wonton Sheet

For a starter, I had deep-fried wonton sheets. The thin, minced shrimp inside of the fried wontons were not substantial, but the flavour overcompensated. Served with a sweet and sour sauce and atop a green salad, I could have devoured an entrée sized platter of these fried wontons.

Grilled Chicken in Green Curry

Grilled Chicken in Green Curry

Having left a graduation ceremony, I had a white shirt on with my suit. Because of that, I did not have a soup for fear that the broth would splash about my shirt. Instead, I ordered grilled chicken in green curry with rice and a salad. I love spicy food and the green curry was spicy enough for a bite yet mild enough that I could enjoy the taste of the dish. Rice at Vietnamese restaurants alway has a perfect texture and the same was the case at Pho 55. As to the salad, I could have cut up the chicken, put it all in a bowl and had a wonderful time working my chopsticks on the dish. I was glad I ordered the curry dish than a pho. I did get one speck of curry on my shirt, though.

Fried Banana with Vanilla Cream

Fried Banana with Vanilla Cream

Being conscious again of my sugar intake, I had fried banana with vanilla cream sauce. The natural sweetness of the bananas in the fried wontons was better than any sugary dessert that I could have ordered. The vanilla cream sauce was only an accent, more like melted vanilla ice cream of the homemade variety.

Pho 55 does not have that hustling and bustling feeling that one experiences at Vietnamese restaurants in Chicago’s Little Vietnam along Argyle Avenue. There is a slight upscale atmosphere per the interior decor, but without upscale attitude. The service is fantastic. When you let a server make recommendations and he or she doesn’t act put upon, you have a winner in customer service. With outstanding food from the kitchen, it’s all about one pho the money, two pho the show, three to get ready, and pho to go. Yes, I know that sounds corny, but I couldn’t help it.

Click to add a blog post for Pho 55 on Zomato

Gino and the Chocolate Factory, Katherine Anne Confections

Katherine Anne's ConfectionsWhen I moved to Chicago, Logan Square was not viewed as a favourable neighbourhood. With Wicker Park and Bucktown to the southeast becoming congested, Logan Square became the next sought after neighbourhood in Chicago’s Near Northwest area. Restaurants, boutiques, cafes, coffeehouses, and lounges are filling in the landscape. During my six years of living in Logan Square, it is undergoing a slow and seemingly well-planned renaissance. There are plenty options to partake of for those who have made Logan Square their home. Not far from my favourite Italian restaurant is an option that I have enjoyed by the name of Katherine Anne Confections at 2745 W. Armitage Avenue.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Turkey Bleu

For my first sit-down visit, I wanted to try something from the sandwich menu so that I had more than just the hot chocolate I had planned to order. Now, I am not a fan of sandwiches at coffee shops and sandwiches on the menu at chocolate shops are unheard of. The turkey bleu at Katherine Anne Confections changed my mind — at least for this shop. The bread was fresh and the ingredients were not simply heaped on. I was won over. And I was completely wowed with the Mexican hot chocolate. This was not Nestlé’s and by the nth sip, it was clear that it wasn’t Hershey’s either. There was not even a hint of a milk chocolate taste and the spice added to it made it evident that they must use dark chocolate instead.

Hazelnut Hot Chocolate with Chocolate Truffles Flight of Chocolate Truffles

My second visit was more in passing. I’d had a heavy lunch but wanted a little something extra before going home. So, I stopped in for a cup of hot chocolate and relaxation. Because the Mexican hot chocolate was a winner, I chose a cup of hazelnut chocolate with vanilla pepper marshmallows. Accented with chopped hazelnuts, having this option on the menu can result in long lines hanging outside of the shop during the chilly months. It is hard for me to say whether I loved the Mexican hot chocolate or the hazelnut hot chocolate more. And then there were four truffles for take-away. I told the cashier to pick four. I know one was hazelnut, one was raspberry, and one was a fire chocolate. As to the fourth, it was divine, if I can call that a flavour.

Those who work at Katherine Ann Confections are not only charming, but they are also outstanding with their delivery of service. If you are indecisive, they never rush you. If you appear to want recommendations, they offer them without being pushy. I have had coffee for take-away and each cup has been great. The sit-down experiences have been fantastic. For a neighbourhood haunt, this is a splendid chocolatier and you may feel like Charlie at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory once you sink your teeth into some of the delectable chocolate truffles or get a chocolate from any of the swell cups of hot chocolate. Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.

Click to add a blog post for Katherine Anne Confections on Zomato

Kim Long Chinese Restaurant, Longing for More

Kim Long Chinese Restaurant

I have a ritual of going to Somethin’ Sweet Donuts every weekend for a doughnut fix. On my recent visit, I asked the cashier about Kim Long Restaurant, which is the restaurant next door at 5114 W. Fullerton Avenue. I was wondering if she had gone there. She gave me a modest, “It’s okay” response. I have not been a fan of restaurant Chinese food since I had some truly authentic Chinese food in 1991, so I am always leery of getting China Buffet quality food when I go to any Chinese eateries. Well, let’s just say that it was considerably better than okay. I mentally went back to 1991.

Hong Kong Milk Tea

Hong Kong Milk Tea

Hong Kong milk tea. Hot and sour soup. Salt and pepper shrimp. Shrimp in lobster sauce. I figured that I would at least sample something familiar and two dishes that I had not had before. The goal was the avoid general chicken, kung pao, egg foo young, orange chicken, and the usual Americanized fare.

Hot and Sour Soup

Hot and Sour Soup

First, I am hooked on the Hong Kong milk tea. It reminds me of a cross between bubble tea without the tapioca pearls and Thai iced tea without the smokiness. For the muggy temperatures we had been having in Chicago, it was ideal for cooling off from the humidity. The hot and sour soup had a lot more flavour to it than what I’ve had at Americanized Chinese restaurants. The bowl of soup seemed full of ingredients, not just a few items swimming in a pool of broth. And it was hearty, quite impossible to be flavourless.

Salt and Pepper Shrimp

Salt and Pepper Shrimp

The salt and pepper shrimp was a winner. I wasn’t expecting the head to be attached to the shrimp. I am accustomed to having to pull the shell from the tail, but having it on the head was a surprise. Once I got the shell off, it was all good. And there was a fair amount of meat in the head, packing a succulent wallop. I’m addicted to the shrimp in lobster sauce. This entrée came with snow peas, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms. The shrimp was not of the miniature variety, quite plump and fresh on the palate. Served with rice and spicy as requested, I can say without hesitation that my craving had been satisfied thoroughly.

Shrimp in Lobster Sauce

Shrimp in Lobster Sauce

When I was leaving, I saw an older woman who used to be at Somethin’ Sweet Donuts when I first started going there. She yelled at me jokingly to not leave the restaurant without speaking, just before commenting about me having trimmed my beard since the last time she had seen me. I had a long conversation before leaving. She mentioned that Somethin’ Sweet Donuts and Kim Long Restaurant are family owned. I guess my ritual now will be to go to Kim Long Chinese Restaurant for dinner and then to Somethin’ Sweet Donuts for my usual doughnut dessert fix.

Click to add a blog post for Kim Long Restaurant on Zomato

El Cid, Nobleman, Logan Square Restaurant

El  Cid

When summer arrives, I usually like to bike to other neighbourhoods in Chicago and have a brief walkabout. There is usually some new discovery or me finding something that I missed during my first visit. With Logan Square going through so many changes, I decided to take a stroll through my neighbourhood to see what was new and to also check out something old. This past Sunday, I finally went to what I imagine has been a staple in Logan Square — El Cid at 2645 N Kedzie Avenue.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and Salsa

With nice weather, mildly humid from passing rain storms earlier in the day, I took advantage of the outdoor seating. I had a taste for a flight of mojitos, but the server recommended a margarita instead. His recommendation was a winner, and I paced myself downing it while devouring a basket of chips with a side of tomatilla salsa and another side of pica de gallo. The tomatilla salsa had a bite to it, a strong indicator that it may not have come from a jar. The pica de gallo was a winner. I swear it was doctored up with a mole and much like cilantro, mole goes great with everything.

Margarita

Margarita

There was so much on the menu that I had found appetizing. Being quick, I ordered vegetarian chimichangas. Served with dollops of sour cream and guacamole, these rolled tortillas stuffed with black beans, tomatoes, onions, rice, and cheese were fantastic street food snacks for my outdoor sit-down. By the time I had finished the basket of chips with salsa and the chimichangas, I was completing my margarita. I ordered another one.

Vegetarian Chimichangas

Vegetarian Chimichangas

Another appetizer I tried was a tamale. Delicious! There was nothing store-bought about the tamale. Not only did it come wrapped in a corn husk, but it was packed full of taste. My server had warned me about the red sauce. He mentioned that a dab will do you. The sauce was of the variety that people trying to prove a point will try. It has been loaded with habanero peppers. Nevertheless, I recommend the tamale. The red sauce looks good on the side only.

Tamale Con Salsa

Tamale Con Salsa

For an entrée, I settled for a seafood option. There was a salmon plate that came with Spanish rice and frijoles. Topped with a garlic salsa, the salmon was juicy and tender. The food smelled so good that I didn’t photograph as many shots as I normally do. And once I had my first fork of salmon along with some rice and the frijoles, I had declared the dish a winner, definitely not the usual enchiladas, tacos, and the like.

Salmon a la Parrilla

Salmon a la Parrilla

I went with a traditional Latin American dessert option: flan. This flan had coconut in it. And given the additional ingredient, one would think the texture would be coarse. No, the flan was smooth as a quesillo. It felt like slicing through melted butter and it tasted like bliss. I made a note to myself to be more aggressive in the gym this week. Flans are not necessarily friendly to the cholesterol and a third margarita isn’t particularly helpful when you’re trying to flatten your tummy.

Flan de Coco

Flan de Coco

El Cid has been on the Logan Square landscape since I moved to the neighbourhood several years ago. I was always under the impression that their doors opened at 5:00 PM, so I passed by it during the day on weekends and thought nothing of it. Yelp should update its page to reflect the proper time. At any rate, the service was top, the food was worth several more visits, and the price was extremely reasonable. I’ll have to remember El Cid, the idol of Spain, for the next time I return to the namesake on N. Kedzie Avenue. I’m sure he’ll pass my mind briefly before my third margarita.

Click to add a blog post for El Cid on Zomato