It was a usual blustery night in Chicago. The wind howled. The rain poured. Car horns blew. People cursed. My belly growled, which made all of Chicago’s antics seem insignificant. I boarded a crowded bus to go to Chicago’s Bucktown to meet my adventurous restaurant friend and wouldn’t you believe that the bus made every stop along the way. I was so hungry that if I were a cannibal, I would have only needed carrots, potatoes, and green peas for the stew I could have made from all the meaty people on the bus. Then again, most of them may have been high in salt content, which would do my high blood pressure no good.
My friend and I decided that we would start off our restaurant adventure with Peruvian food for the letter P. So, on this one particular Friday night, we ended up going to Rinconcito Sudamericano at 1954 W. Armitage Avenue. Chicago has a surplus of Latin American eateries and none of them dish up any kind of disappointment. I swear the owners and chefs must say, “We’ll leave bad dining experiences to other restaurants.” From getting off the bus and dashing into the restaurant to having one of the waitresses great me with a warm smile and buenos noche, to the waiter not thinking my friend and me absolute payasos for ordering so much food, to the vacuum sealed popping sound of my jeans after dinner, it was the best.
To get things started, my friend and I began with our usual decision to order at least two appetizers and three entrées Yes, we are danger boys when it comes down to food. For appetizers, we had a papa rellena, which was deep fried mashed potato with seasoned ground beef, and we had tamales peruano. The next time I hear someone say, “You have not had the best tamale until you’ve gone to [fill in the blank] restaurant,” I will clap the individual across the back of the head. No sooner had I bitten down into the Peruvian tamale than it seemed like the rain stopped, the temperatures got hot, llamas walked past the restaurant, and all I could hear was Spanish. Well, all anyone at the restaurant spoke was Spanish primarily, so that part was true, but I reminisced about Lima and a classmate’s abuela laughing and saying that unlike her grandson’s other American friends, I was welcome in her home any time. The woman could cook and the least that I could do was show my appreciation by eating up the food and Rinconcito lived up to its food tasting just like what my friend’s grandmother cooked during the time we were visiting Lima. I guess the other Californian classmates who visited were all about remaining thin, so water and salad only were good enough for them. Tragic.
Having gobbled up the appetizers and made room on the table for the entrées, we were now ready for the action. We had entrées family style and they consisted of pollo en salsa de mani, picante de camarones, and estofado de carne. ¡Aye! Dios mios. The pollo en salsa de mani was chicken with peanut sauce served with white rice. The picante de camarones were shrimp in a Peruvian nut cream served with rice. We got plenty of starches with rice this night. The estafado de carne was beef stew cooked in Peruvian spices cooked with red wine and served with — you got it — white rice. Ayudame. What we thought looked like manageable dollops of food tuned into a task. The portions were large in a rather optical illusion kind of way. The waiter kept bringing out baskets of warm bread that was nothing akin to the kind of stale stuff you find in a lot of Stepford restaurants. Oh, don’t let me forget about the lemonade. We’re not talking about Country Time or that bitter bitter, yellow concoction in jugs that you find in the kiddie juice section at the market. The waiter had forearms from squeezing every drop from the lemons and the juice was so good that it made no sense. This was the good stuff and the more I ate, the more I kept trying to convince myself that I would take only one more bite and then stop. The food was intoxicating as was it delicious, so I stopped lying to myself and I kept eating. My eyelids kept getting heavy and all I wanted to do was go home and sleep. That’s good food, I tell you. Okay, let me be real. It’s an addiction. There! I’ve said it.
At the risk of howling like a lobo loco, we didn’t try to exhaust ourselves on too much dessert. We ordered a flan peruano de coco and an arroz con leche y coco. We are trying to find a flan to rival the flan we had at Cafe Laguardia, so we had to indulge in the Peruvian flan, which was a close second to the danger flan at Cafe LagLaguardia. The arroz con leche y coco, rice pudding with coconut, was a big hit. I’m not a fan of rice pudding, and it may be because I have always had it with some rather disgusting rice and someone’s poor attempt at making it, but this rice pudding changed it all for me. It was a true thrill, an adrenaline rush, a reason to agree to do an advertisement for Rinconcito Sudamericano. After the hundredth take at the commercial, they would realize that I am only doing it for the food and then they would probably fire me.
Well, the list keeps growing and I don’t know where to put Rinconcito Sudamericano in ranking. It is getting impossible because of so many outstanding restaurants with so much delicious food. I mean, I’m beginning to feel, I guess, schizo because of all of the decisions to make and all the voices telling me to go to this restaurant and to that restaurant. If you are the kind of person to make a dollar go a long way and you love food the way that I do, I highly recommend Rinconcito Sudamericano. Having ordered enough food to feed a family of five, we still had money in our wallets for something else. Unless you are a prude about good dining or a fashion model who must stay rail thin then, hell, I still think you should go. Viva la Rinconcito Sudamericano.
10 March 2007