Altiro Roscoe Village, Suburbs Come to the City

Altiro Latin Fusion Roscoe Village

Ala Florinda

Ala Florinda

In 2014, I went to Altiro Latin Fusion in Geneva, Illinois, at the recommendation of a good friend. At the time it seemed that tacos prepared in exotic fashion were becoming the rage. The visit to that Altiro was the first time I had exotic tacos done right, it seemed. I joked with the owner that they should open a location  in Chicago proper in Logan Square. Well, I never thought a suggestion given in jest would be taken seriously. Instead of Logan Square, an Altiro Latin Fusion is now in Roscoe Village at 2116 W. Roscoe Street, a quick ride from Logan Square.

I got in contact with my friend who introduced me to the Altiro Geneva offerings to see if he was game for trying out the Roscoe Village location. Being sure to arrive well in advance of the dinner crowd, we had a seat, he starting with a Modelo Dos Equis, and me whetting my palate with an Al Florinda. The concoction of hibiscus with bourbon, orange liqueur, orange juice, lime juice and chili de Arbol definitely had me off the a good start.

Al Elotito

Al Elotito

One tapas dish that I enjoyed at the Geneva location and an all-time Mexican favourite is elote. The Al Elitito was not the usual corn on the cob, but was off the cob prepared with garlic aioli, serrano pepper, fresh epazote, onions, cotija cheese, and chile piquin. This may be some of the most addictive corn you will ever devour.

Ala Papa Brava

Ala Papa Brava

Something different we ordered was Ala Papa Brava. This came as several potato logs, topped with an egg sunny side up and dollops of aioli and poblano sauces. Of all of the Spanish tapas restaurants I’ve gone to that serves papas bravas, Altiro Roscoe Village is in control of setting the bar.

Al Fundido

Al Fundido

Altiro is outstanding when it comes to tacos and this is another area where they’ve set the bar high  — for me, that is. We ordered the Al Fundido, which were tacos prepared with sautéed garlic shrimp, Chihuahua cheese, cilantro-lime oil, and escabeche red onions. It is easy to forget about ordering tacos with shredded beef, ground beef, pork, or chicken after having it with delectable, plump shrimp ala Al Fundido.

Al Poblano

Al Poblano

In preparation for the final main dish, my friend had another beer and I ordered an Al Pepiño. When I said I wanted a spicy drink, the recipe of muddled cucumber, cilantro, jalapeno infused vodka, fresh lime, and agave nectar was sent from the gods, not the bartender. And with the Al Poblano of tender chicken breast over rice in a poblano sauce and accented with pomegranate seeds, my friend and I were too immersed in working the tortillas to scoop the dish that we hadn’t noticed the Damiens and Rhodas having a run of the restaurant.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

After having stuffed ourselves to near food comatose, we waited before having their version of tiramisu. Move over Italian restaurants because you have competition. There were the usual ingredients, but there wasn’t the espresso and usual dusting of cocoa powder on top. There was Rumchata. People who say bacon goes great with everything will promptly start saying Rumchata is considerably better with everything after they have some of this tiramisu.

Al Pepiño

Al Pepiño

I remember the service being about 50 miles past exceptional at the Altiro Geneva location. The Roscoe Village has been open for less than a full year and they’re already well down the stretch with top service. Sending something from the kitchen that is not appetizing clearly is not a part of their formula. Not one item have I had that I did not want to eat to excess after the first bite. Although I have to go only a few miles to Roscoe Village for a feast of their good food, I’m okay with that. I’m just glad I don’t have to ride the train all the way out to Geneva.

Altiro Latin Fusion Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

La Sardine, Not The Canned Kind

La SardineSeveral months ago the owner at my favourite Italian restaurant in the world, Osteria Langhe, recommended a French bistro to me since he knew that I liked the European feel to my dining experience. During my last visit to the Italian restaurant, I thanked the owner for his recommendation. He then offered a recommendation for another French restaurant that he was confident I would enjoy. My sister and I blocked an evening for a sampling and before going into the full review, I’ll just say that I will thank the owner at my favourite Italian restaurant for this most recent suggestion.

Located at 111 N. Carpenter Street in Chicago’s West Loop District is La Sardine. Come to find out that this restaurant is the sister location to Le Bouchon, which was the first French restaurant given to me as a recommendation. La Sardine is larger, less of a bistro, but without any doubt, the food is just as spectacular and the service is also top.

Not being in a rush, my sister and I opted for a round of various dishes for fulfillment of our own little degustation. There was a potato leek soup that puts to shame some of the same soup that I have had at numerous restaurants worldwide. Unlike the thin base that I have had in the past, this was creamy without the potatoes being the thickening agent. Fresh ingredients in the recipe and this was a perfect starter.

Potato Leek Soup

Potato Leek Soup

During my first visit to Le Bouchon, I had ordered the soupe à l’oignon gratinée. When my sister and I had returned for what was to be my second visit, she had not had the French onion soup, so it was a part of the meal for our La Sardine sampling. After cutting through the baked gruyère cheese and down through the crouton, she understood why I talked incessantly about how much of a fan I was of the soup. Midway through the soup, she declared that it was the best she had ever eaten.

Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée

Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée

It would be wrong to go to a French restaurant and not partake of any escargot. So, we had a platter of plump escargots à la bourguignonne bubbling in burgundy, garlic, parsley, and butter. After we had finished the savoury morsels, we used the homemade French bread to sop the remaining sauce from the little cups on the platter.

Escargots à la Bourguignonne

Escargots à la Bourguignonne

Sin entered the picture when the bowl of moules au cidre arrived at the table. Granted the morsels in the mussels are light, the quantity of mussels was not small. To add to that, the mussels were swimming in a delectable cream sauce accented with cider and shallots. After we finished the mussels, we then used the French bread to sop the rest of the sauce. My sister, being a Catholic, spoke to an invisible priest, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.” Me being a practising Buddhist, simply acknowledged that I was enjoying the moment of gluttony and decided to be at peace with my higher power after coffee.

Moules au Cidre

Moules au Cidre

For my main dish, I ordered the rãble de lapin. The rabbit was delectable, tender, not oily, and nothing akin to gamey on the palate. Served with a potato risotto in an au jus, I had pretty much decided that I will spend quite a bit of time at La Sardine cleaning plates.

Rãble de Lapin

Rãble de Lapin

My sister ordered the magret de canard. This dish, one consisting of duck that was neither oily nor gamey, was a winner. This one came with lentils and rapini in an addictive orange sauce. There were exaggerated pauses in conversation during the main course. I have a habit of humming when food is divine and my sister gets reticent for a few minutes. We were silent for at least fifteen minutes.

Magret de Canard

Magret de Canard

There was no room for dessert. And although we watched some captivating sweets going to different tables, the most we could indulge was coffee. Coffee is the after-diner drink my sister always has and I opted for a cafe au lait. Quality bean, clean coffee machine, or whatever it may be, I can speak to the cafe au lait not requiring any sweetener and not making me feel like there was something bitter in the cup.

Cafe au Lait

Cafe au Lait

The service at La Sardine is through the roof. The restaurant fills quickly and there is a nonstop flow of patrons coming and going. Still, it is evident that the service plays a part in the experience being splendid for those who come. The food is hands-down the best French food in Chicago that I have had as of late — and I include the sister restaurant Le Bouchon in the number one slot with La Sardine. Seating is close, a rather European effect, so be forewarned if you go. Make a reservation because the energy is high. Go on an empty stomach, don’t be in a rush to stuff yourself, and be prepared to experience sin with all the good flavours of France.

Mon Dieu.

La Sardine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Via Lima, Straight to My Belly

Via Lima

Since I have started taking blogging a little more serious, I got an Instagram account a little over a year ago and devoted all of my photos to food rather than stream of consciousness shots. In doing that, I have been following several restaurants in the metropolitan Chicago area. One that resulted in an addiction from simply looking at the photos was Via Lima in North Centre at 4024 N. Lincoln Avenue. The photos were of Peruvian food, but fancy. Well, it was necessary to feed the addiction.

Plantain Chips

Plantain Chips

Arriving in the early evening after work, I had a pick of seats without feeling crowded. Via Lima is a spacious restaurant, but after you start indulging the food, ambiance will be the absolute last thing on your mind. No extensive menu, I saw quite a bit that I wanted. Instead, I opted for a variety of appetizers, saving the entrées for a return visit. My server offered recommendations and I enjoyed complimentary plantain chips with amarillo sauce while I waited.

Tequeño Pollo y Mariscos

Tequeño Pollo y Mariscos

Pisco Sour Habanero

Pisco Sour Habanero

The first appetizer was a plate of tequeños. Two of the fried wontons were stuffed with chicken and seasonal vegetables. The other two were stuffed with seafood and seasonal vegetables. Served with amarillo sauce and a creamy guacamole, I could have had several orders of these tasties without complaint. These appetizers hint at the Chinese influence in Peruvian cuisine and I admit that it works extremely well in the recipe. With a cocktail of pisco sour habanero, all was quite okay in the land. For those who try this cocktail, it is worthy, but remember that the habanero is not to be taken like it’s candy.

Causitas

Causitas

The second appetizer was a plate of causitas, which were potato cakes doctored with your choice of meat. One I had with chicken, avocado, tomatoes, black olive, and boiled egg. The other was with shrimp and the toppings. The spicy sauces that came with the appetizer, one amarillo and a rocoto sauce, were perfect accompaniments. Per the preparation and presentation of causitas, one will see French influence. I think this was one of the fancy photos I saw on Instagram. It could have come to the table looking a complete mess and the flavour still would have been a winner.

Pisco Sour

Pisco Sour

Ceviches Trio

Ceviches Trio

The third appetizer was a trio of ceviche. Thinking that I had already eaten the best appetizer on the menu, I was totally confused as to which appetizer I enjoyed the most when the ceviche came. More confusing was trying to decide which ceviche in the trio I liked the most. There were a classic ceviche, one with ají amarillo, and one with rocoto — mild to spicy. One thing that I really liked about the ceviche was that they used choclo in the recipe. Anyone who has had this Peruvian corn will attest to authenticity of the dish. Also, one thing to note is the Japanese influence in this dish. And with this appetizer, I had a regular pisco sour. It was as refreshing as the one I had with the habanero.

Lucuma Mousse

Lucuma Mousse

Per my server’s recommendation, I had a lucuma mousse. I have had lucuma ice cream at another restaurant in Chicago and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Having it in a mousse was a highlight. Not only was the dessert light, given all the food and drink I had prior to indulging it, but the natural sweetness of it was all that was needed. Accented with a bit of chocolate syrup and topped with whipped cream and a butterscotch cookie, the only thing I needed was a cup of coffee. I’m weaning myself from coffee, so the dulce of lucuma mousse was perfect.

I cannot speak to how service is when the restaurant is filled almost to capacity. What I can say is that I had a server who did a superb job of offering recommendations that hit the spot. When you open a menu and see so many offerings such that you’re indecisive, a server who can nail some menu items that leave you wanting to return in the very near future is a plus. As to the food, if Instagram ever adds a scratch-and-sniff feature, Via Lima will break Instagram with people scratching and sniffing their photos. Via Lima, straight to your belly.

Via Lima Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dón Fresco Quando Frio

Dón Freso

A few years ago, there was an Indian restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop that opened, had really good food, and then ended in a short shelf life. While on Instagram, I saw postings from a Mexican restaurant that has since taken up residence in the location where the Indian restaurant was. Dón Fresco at 520 W. Harrison Street opened its doors for business within the past few months and the constant postings on Instagram from other diners were the indicators that they were enjoying some good Mexican food.

Guacamole

Guacamole

Jarritos Mandarina

Jarritos Mandarina

I had a classic, guacamole. Instead of purée, which is a common way guacamole is prepared, Dón Fresco makes it chunky. Having had guacamole chunky at a restaurant in Chicago’s Edgewater neighbourhood, I prefer it this way, so Dón Fresco scores high for their preparation. A nice surprise is that the crunchy tortilla chips are made on the premises. They are not purchased at a store; I give a higher score.

Quesadillas

Quesadillas

The second item I tried was a quesadilla. Made with flour tortillas and Chihuahua cheese, the quesadilla was good with salsa verde. I imagine one can order quesadillas with extra ingredients in them like chicken, beef, or vegetables. I recommend ordering a variety for a good sampling.

Tamale con Pollo

Tamale con Pollo

Another traditional Mexican staple is the tamale. This may be the one item that made Dón Fresco a winner for me. I ordered one with chicken and one with frijoles and pepper. One of my Mexican neighbours once gave me some tamales that he had made at home. The ones I had at Dón Fresco were reminiscent of what I had from my neighbour. So, I can vouch for authenticity. And the same may be said of the elote, albeit not gobbled from a cob. Anyone who loves corn would find it hard to fight the urge to buy some for takeaway. I gave in and had some for to-go.

Elote

Elote

The atmosphere at Dón Fresco screams fast food. The food doesn’t taste fast, and that’s the best part. It’s not fancy and there are no tableside servers. You order at the till, pay for your meal, and have a seat if you’re dining in. Much like hole-in-the-wall taquerias, there is indeed authenticity in the food that you can’t deny. The flavours are not doctored down for Taco Bell palates. While you can also get an order for takeaway, I recommend ordering for staying. Authenticity isn’t something to rush off to some destination to enjoy. You must enjoy it on location.

When You Crave Lemon Grass, Serai

With the New Year off to a good start and the temperatures not lingering below zero degrees, I have started to explore a bit more of Logan Square. And while looking for some international cuisine that I have not experienced in Chicago yet, I was surprised to see a new restaurant in Logan Square that piqued my interest. Only a month old, Serai at 2169 N. Milwaukee Avenue brings Malaysian cuisine to Chicago proper. I forwarded the online menu to a Malaysian friend for authenticity. He confirmed. I made a date. I went. I ate. I wanted to eat more. I will return and eat more.

Serai

Rather than taking a chance going after work, I went early during the day on a Sunday afternoon. What became quite obvious while scanning the menu was that this restaurant is going to become a neighbourhood favourite quickly. It was during my ordering that I got a hint of why it draws a crowd. The service ranks a 25 on a scale of 1 to 10. The server recommended that I treat my first visit as an introductory visit and come back several more times for a sampling of different dishes.

Teh Tarik

Teh Tarik

The server started me off with roti pratha. Being a fan, lover, addict of curry, the dish was divine on my palate by default. In this dish, there is the influence from Indian immigrants who came to Malaysia. The curry came with potatoes and bits of chicken. And instead of devouring this by using a spoon, I used the roti bread to sop the curry gravy. Thanks to the gravy being hearty, it stuck to the bread nicely and I was surprised that I finished the appetizer without needing use of a spoon.

Roti Pratha

Roti Pratha

For a second appetizer, I had satay chicken over a small salad of cucumbers and onions with peanut sauce. Most Thai restaurants have satay chicken on the menu and the server explained to me that Malaysian cuisine gets a bit of influence from Thailand. When food is so blooming good, I lose my purist notions. I had none while feasting on the chicken that came off of the wooden skewers with little effort.

Satay Chicken

Satay Chicken

My Malaysian friend had mentioned that char koay teow was authentically Malaysian. Surprisingly, the server recommended it as an entrée I should try. This is a popular noodle dish in Malaysian cuisine that reminds me a bit of some Chinese noodle dishes. Again, my server clued me in that there is also a Chinese influence in some dishes. The recipe had blood clams, huge shrimp, fried egg, shrimp paste, Chinese sausage, and bean sprouts prepared in a savoury soy sauce. Absolute heaven on a plate.

Char Koay Teow

Char Koay Teow

For a dessert, I opted for something traditional yet certainly different from what you’d expect. I indulged a cup of pulut hitam. One thing I have learned and love is that many Asian restaurants employ ingredients in dessert recipes that make you forget that you’re not having cake, cookies, or pies. The pulut hitam was prepared as black rice porridge with palm sugar and topped with coconut milk. Primarily an Indonesian dessert, and with a heavy presence in the Peranakan/Baba-Nyonya culture, it still was enough of an influence that I enjoyed it to completion. And with a cup of teh tarik, hot milk tea commonly called “pulled” tea, I was one satisfied customer when I finally extracted myself from my seat to depart.

Pulut Hitam

Pulut Hitam

Serai has a BYOB policy. Given that they do an incredible job of sending the best Malaysian food from the kitchen that you will find in Chicago, drop by a wine shop and inquire as to a good red wine or rose that will go with Malaysian food. I have already made a tickler to remind me to go by a wine shop to get a recommendation for a bottle of wine to go with a rendeng dish. Priorities.

Serai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rickshaw Republic, Starting 2016

Rickshaw Republic

So, here we are at 2016. Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2015 saw warm weather. The very end of the year went from moderate temperatures to icy overnight. That’s Chicago for you. With those temperatures hovering  near single digits, that means my appetite requires more satisfaction. My ongoing New Year’s Eve Resolution is to search for more food. Only two days into 2016 and I find myself in some restaurant experiencing food happiness.

Sate Ayam

Sate Ayam

Rickshaw Republic at 2312 N. Lincoln Avenue became my first new restaurant for the Near Year with international flare. Several years ago, I had gone to an Indonesian restaurant in Rogers Park and it has since closed. There is another restaurant in Lincoln Park that marries Indonesian and Dutch influence. However, I wanted 100% Indonesian, not fusion, not influence, not faux.

Sate Udang

Sate Udang

For one starter, I had sate ayam. This was chicken satay served on wooden skewers. Dipped in a peanut sauce and topped with crushed peanuts along with a small cucumber salad, I was off to a satisfying start. The sate udang, which was huge shrimp cut butterfly style and served on skewers with a ginger sauce and small cucumber salad, I was almost to my happy place.

Beef Rendang, Coconut Rice, String Beans, Corn Fritter

Beef Rendang, Coconut Rice, String Beans, Corn Fritter

At the recommendation of the server, I arrived at my happy place thanks to a plate of beef rendang, coconut rice, spicy string beans, potato and corn fritter, boiled egg, and zucchini and carrot salad. The panang and other gravies were addictive. I figured the string beans and fritter would be pedestrian, but they were anything but bland accompaniments. The curry gravy over the green beans was not overpowering, which allowed for tasting garden fresh beans. The corn fritter would make a perfect morning starter. The winners were the tender beef under panang gravy and the lip-smacking coconut rice.

Wedang Cincau dan Selasih

Wedang Cincau dan Selasih

I realized that I was not going to have any room for dessert, so I opted for something that would not be heavy on my stomach. The main cook, who I believe owns the restaurant, brought a glass of wedang cincau dan selasih to me. If anyone had told me that grass jelly and basil seeds in ginger syrup was a good option, let alone good for digestion, I would have smirked and ordered something else. Nary a drop of alcohol in it, I could easily become addicted to it as if it was spiked.

Rickshaw Republic has been in Chicago’s Lincoln Park for over three years. Since Angin Mamari, the Indonesian restaurant I mentioned earlier close, Rickshaw Republic is indeed the only authentic Indonesian restaurant in metropolitan Chicago. The inside is spacious. The service was outstanding, from the recommendations and the owner even coming out to chat briefly. Rickshaw Republic has another fan: me.

Oh, my realistic New Years Resolution: wait until leaving the restaurant to squeal with satisfaction if the food is really, really, OMG, really delicious.

Rickshaw Republic Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Top 10 Jaunts for 2015

How quick the end of the year approaches. And now we are at the time when Chicago Alphabet Soup proudly presents the Top 10 Jaunts for 2015. There are numerous restaurants that I go to throughout the year. Many of them make it onto the blog. Some don’t. However, there are restaurants that stand out more. Those restaurants deserve highlighting.

Several friends and others have asked what criteria I use for coming up with the top 10 restaurants for a given year. I never specified that when I compiled the lists in 2013 and 2014, so now is as good as time as ever to put forth the short list.

  • The food is outstanding on a first visit, consistently outstanding on repeat visits. It doesn’t have to look fancy on a plate, but it must be divine on the palate.
  • The service is top. Restaurants are service organizations and any time diners feel less than welcome, that alone can set a tone for a bad dining experience. And whenever a server makes recommendations that exceed your expectations, you will have struck gold.
  • There is a constant desire to return after the initial visit to the restaurant. This comes not only from delicious food, but from a welcoming atmosphere and top service.
  • For sticking with the theme of international cuisine, the restaurant must serve food that is from cultures abroad. Minus the continuous rattling off about Chicago being a racially divided city, many completely miss the fact that a city with as many various cultures cannot be that nightmarish. And authenticity in the food from the multitide of cultures and ethnicities should be celebrated and shown appreciation accordingly.
  • I hanker for a cigarette when I leave the restaurant. I don’t smoke, by the way.

In the same manner as previous years, the restaurants that made the list were restaurants where I went as a regular Joe. There were no advanced announcements and no one knew that I was blogging. Any restaurant that serves VIP treatment without the diners having celebrity status and food that you won’t shut up talking about is a restaurant that plies its trade well. So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you in video forms the restaurants that exceeded my expectations for 2015.


10. Cafe Bela — Latin American

9. Saigon Bistro — Vietnamese

8. Demera — Ethiopian

7. Badou Senegalese Cuisine — Senegalese

6. Le Bouchon — French

5. Tandoor Char House — Indian-Pakistani

4. Cohiba Cuban Cuisine — Cuban

3. Taste of Trinidad — Trinidadian

2. Herb — Thai

1. Bolat African Cuisine — Nigerian


Until 2016, enjoy all and eat well.

Bistronomic, Bon Français en Chicago

Not long ago I went to a French bistro in Bucktown named Le Bouchon. I fell in love with the bistro. Shortly after that, I went to Mexique, a Mexican restaurant that has a French influence. I fell in love with that restaurant also. Since I was on a French kick, Bistronomic at 840 N. Wabash Avenue became the third restaurant I added for my “Third Time is a Charm” dining experience. I was blown away just like I had been at Le Bouchon and Mexique.

Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup

With this being the last restaurant that I figured I would blog for 2015, I wanted a memorable dining experience. I opted for a variety of plates, starting with a cup of pumpkin soup. This was a fantastic autumn soup, filled with puréed pumpkin, highlighted nicely with cinnamon, croutons, and a liberal scoop of crème fraîche. This soup I had paired with a white wine that I left to the server’s selection. Not quite sweet yet not too dry, the marriage of the soup and wine made for an outstanding starter.

Salmon Linguine

Salmon Linguine

The salmon linguine was a dream. The linguine sauce was creamy without being milky and the salad came with a hint of a vinaigrette that still allowed the freshness of the salmon to come through. Where the salmon has been dry in the recipe at many other restaurants that have attempted the dish, Bistronomic should take a bow for having flaky, succulent salmon in the recipe. And this I had paired with another white wine that was closer to sweet to cut down on any acidity of the dish from the vinaigrette.

Braised Rabbit

Braised Rabbit

Apologies to my favourite Loony Tunes character, Bugs Bunny. Because the braised rabbit with root vegetables over what tasted like an autumn purée was met with complete satisfaction. The few smears of gravy from having devoured the tender meat that I struggled to keep on the fork showed my initiation into the Clean Plate Society, as though I have not been inducted already. This paired well with a Merlot, a recommendation that the server thought would be better not quite full-bodied because the dish was rich.

Apple Banana Crumble with Ice Cream

Apple Banana Crumble with Ice Cream

Dessert was heaven. The apple banana crumble came with toasted walnuts, macadamia nuts, and white raisins, all topped with a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. The apples still had enough crisp to them and a complete absence of syrup to indicate that this dessert was prepared on the premises without anything from a can. Talk about playing up tasty autumn treats.

Lemon Tart

Lemon Tart

And if the lemon tart tasted like what the Queen of Hearts baked in “Alice in Wonderland,” I could understand her wanting someone’s head for stealing them. Although not served as a mini pie, the tart was mouth-watering without being tart or excessively sweet. The meringue pillow reminded me of lemon meringue pies of my youth. The raspberry sauce and vanilla cream were the perfect accents.

Coffee

Coffee

Bistronomic has a quiet setting. It looks as though there may be more to the restaurant as far as seating goes. Nevertheless, the lighting and seating in the immediate area provide an intimate atmosphere and patrons tend to be more cognizant of others in the dining area by keeping their voices down. It doesn’t feel like a chic-chic restaurant with sports bar ambiance. The food tastes authentically French, so be forewarned if you expect Americanize comfort food prices. I know that it may be early to end my restaurant jaunts for 2015, but it is hard to come up with other options between now and 31 December 2015. Besides, I have to compile my list of Top 10 Jaunts for 2015. I will save something for 2016. I only wish I had followed that advice while I was overindulging myself with such great cuisine at Bistronomic. I had to walk a mile before I could sit in a cab or on the subway home.

Bistronomic Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mexcais, Frenchican, Mexique

Mexique

For the past few years, I have been going to a few restaurants in the West Town vicinity of Chicago. During the summer, I got to see much of the area while on foot. One restaurant I passed by several times was Mexique at 1529 W. Chicago Avenue. There was a “white table-cloth” feel to the restaurant and with that in mind, I never went in because I was usually in short pants and walking shoes. So, I decided that I would go one evening after work when I was better attired.

Black Bean Purée, Bread, Chicken Pâté

Black Bean Purée, Bread, Chicken Pâté

Chicken Pâté, Bread, Black Bean Purée

Chicken Pâté, Bread, Black Bean Purée

I considered having the dining experience be more ala carte. And then I decided that I wanted a sampling of several menu items. The 6-course tasting menu was the better option. Having received the explanation that the food at Mexique is Mexican with a French influence, I knew that I couldn’t go wrong with a seafood approach to the tasting. While I waited for the courses to arrive, I had black bean purée and chicken pâté with French bread. The black beans as a purée instead of thick frijoles was great for spreading as was the spicy pâté, both a great complimentary start and marriage between Mexican and French.

Soup and Wine

Soup and Wine

The first course was poblano pepper soup accented with feta cheese, pineapple relish, quince, and celery root. The remarkable thing about this soup is that neither the spiciness of the peppers nor the sweetness of the pineapple relish overpowered the recipe. A white wine accompanied this dish, one with a lovely touch of sweetness. There were notes of peach and apricots in the wine. Smooth on the palate, it was splendid in the pairing in that it brought out the flavours of the soup rather than competing with it on the tongue.

Ceviche

Ceviche

The second course was an interesting and addictive take on ceviche. Cobia fish in citrus juice was the main seafood ingredient. The French influence came in with the inclusion of the stock prepared with green vegetables, green chilies, also paprika oil and micro greens. There were small dollops of poblana mousse that, once stirred in the ceviche, made the base slightly creamy. The wine that paired with this course was a Sauvignon Blanc from a vineyard in California. There was a high mineral aspect to it, a bit tart, that again allowed the ingredients in the ceviche to pop more than they probably would have had there been no wine served with the course.

Mahi-Mahi with Salmon Tartar

Mahi-Mahi with Salmon Tartar

The third course was one that I initially flagged as the highlight of the evening after a taste of the first morsel. There was mahi-mahi in a lovely sorrel sauce and red quinoa with salmon tartar. The entire dish was drizzled with a burned onion aioli. Those who enjoy seafood would love sampling the mahi-mahi and the salmon tartar. Paired with this was a crisp Spanish Rioja wine, consisting of fully ripe fruits, mainly grapes that played well with the flavours of the sorrel.

Whitefish with Potato Puree and Black Bean Sauce

Whitefish with Potato Puree and Black Bean Sauce

Thinking that the third course was spectacular in terms of taste, the fourth course was unforgettable. This was a whitefish with a black bean sauce prepared with a red wine reduction. The white potato purée had a surprising pop on the palate, as it was clearly not seasoned with salt and pepper only. Garnishes were baby carrots, confit style and micro greens. This course came paired with a Chardonnay. The complexity in this wine came in the form of ripe apples, vanilla, and oak. As if the whitefish wasn’t flaky and tender enough, the silky and buttery notes in the wine made the fourth course a culinary dream.

Skate with Vegetables and Grapes Over Plantain

Skate with Vegetables and Grapes Over Plantain

Given each course was progressively better than the previous one, I should have known the fifth course would be a winner. This was another seafood dish, prepared with skate marinated in tequilla over spinach, cauliflower, and picked grapes, and set atop a fully ripe and compressed plantain. There was a nice amount of achiote seeds used for seasoning this dish and all of the ingredients were fantastic for letting each come through individually on the tongue. A French wine came with this dish. Medium bodied wine with notes of raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries, this was a perfect accompaniment for a dish that had so many complex flavours.

Arroz Con Leche with Ice Cream

Arroz Con Leche with Ice Cream

The finale was one that I had to request a pause before having it arrive at the table. The prior dishes, albeit manageable, were slightly more filling than I had expected. I figured there would be a dessert that would be familiar, but perhaps rich. Sure enough, the arroz con leche with vanilla bean ice cream. This traditional Mexican dessert of rice pudding was enhanced with rompope, Mexican eggnog, and sprinkled with candied pumpkin seeds as well as white chocolate crumble. The dessert wine with the course was and Alameda. The figs, dates, prunes, and raisins in this sherry were fantastic, which made this wine a perfect match for the arroz con leche.

Sherry

Sherry

Those who are expecting tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, and traditional Mexican fare may find Mexique a bit weird or lacking in purist techniques. Even those who fancy Tex-Mex may not be okay with the cuisine either. This is not a restaurant that one may consider upscale Chipotle or a chic Mexican restaurant. Those who like variety and those with broad palates will find the ala carte and the tasting menus to be worthy of one or more visits. The sitting area is large, so there is lots of room for stretching out in preparation for dining. Make reservations, as the restaurant tends to fill up quickly. The constant influx of patrons is all you need to know that the food is good. Well, I’ve shown you pictures already. Now get ready for the taste.

Mexique Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ming Hin Cuisine, Lakeshore East Style

MingHin Cuisine

Rum Runner

Rum Runner

Those who know me are aware that I do not like Chinese food from restaurants. It is disgusting compared to authentic Chinese food prepared by Chinese in their homes. There have been a few moments when I have gone to Chinese restaurants with friends who are immigrants from China. They have been the ones placing orders and the food came with the rich flavours that I recalled from years ago during a visit to China. And I am also reminded of my first roommate’s parents showing us how Chinese food should taste. All it took was having “real” Chinese food for me to become a snob for what’s good in that space.

After a few hours of being in tourist mode downtown, a friend and I passed by Ming Hin Cuisine at 333 E. Benton Place. A quick glance inside and it had become evident that this was not a tourist trap. And hearing all the Chinese spoken inside, my friend and I took a chance. Having devoured a heavy breakfast only a few hours earlier, we were mostly wanting something light, yet mildly filling.

Whole Salt and Pepper Shrimp

Salt and Pepper Shrimp

We started with cocktails and turnip cake. For me, I had a rum runner, which was doctored nicely, hiding much of the rum. My friend had a tropical cocktail that the bartender told her not to drink as if quenching a thirst. The turnip cake was not dessert cake. This dim sum item was prepared with turnip, shredded radish, and bits of  pork. We dipped pieces of the turnip alternately in a thick sauce with a soy sauce base and red chili sauce.

Shrimp in Lobster Sauce

Shrimp in Lobster Sauce

For the main dishes, we ordered salt and pepper shrimp and shrimp in lobster sauce. Fans of shrimp will enjoy the kick from the balanced seasoning of plain salt and pepper and the extra bite of jalapeño peppers along with red and green bell peppers. These shellfish came whole. The shrimp in lobster sauce was also highlight, yet another dish that shrimp fans will find tasty. The sauce is heartier than what I’ve had at Chinese restaurants in the past. It was actually better.

Jasmine Green Tea

Green Tea

There were no off-putting flavours, just great taste. The restaurant has a big box feel. We sat in the bar area, so we got to enjoy the dining experience without unruly children running around. This is the Lake Shore East location. There is a Chinatown location that I believe is crowded constantly, per photos that I have seen on Instagram. The dim sum menu looks extensive, so I am going to chat with one of my friends from Beijing to see if he’s open for trying the location in Chinatown. I think part of why Chinese food does not appeal to me is that you must go with someone who is familiar with the recipes such that they can make recommendations for something other than general chicken, orange chicken, beef with broccoli, and other buffet staples. I am confident that Ming Hin in Chinatown will exceed my expectations, but I will only take that chance with my Chinese friends doing the ordering.

MingHin Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato