Two years ago a friend had told me about a Greek restaurant in Oak Park, Illinois, named Papaspiro’s. I went. I ate. I made a calendar notice to return. And the restaurant was closed. I have to take responsibility for procrastinating and not returning immediately after my first meal. Needless to say, Papispiro’s moved across the street, as a new restaurant named Chara moved in to take its place. I am making a calendar entry to return to the new location in a few days and I won’t put off for later this time.
The new restaurant, Chara, is a welcomed surprise on the Oak Park landscape. At 733 Lake Street, the restaurant boasts a large dining area, patio seating out front, and a menu full of authentic Greek delights. I arrived at Chara early to get a window seat so that I had enough natural light to photograph my dishes. With everyone taking advantage of the outdoor seating, I had an uninterrupted corner spot — until a couple came in and sat at the table immediately next to me. My sister, who joined me around the time I was indulging dessert, can attest to that.
In addition to the homemade, complimentary sesame seed bread, I started with a melitzanosalata. This spread of smoked eggplant, potatoes, garlic, and olive oil served with a black olive, slice of tomato, and slice of cucumber was a fantastic appetizer. Along with the melitzanosalata came pita slices that I used to scoop and devour the dip. The melitzanosalata is the kind of spread that I would serve at parties instead of the usual dips many purchase for gatherings.
For my second course, I ordered shrimp saganaki with feta. Plump shrimp served with roasted bell peppers and onions, and topped with feta, I was all done with it before I realized that it was not the same as regular saganaki — the cheese that is brought to the table and set aflame. Although the shrimp saganaki with feta was more like a salad, the portion was enough to be an entrée.
Because I was hankering for some seafood, I was quite happy to find bakalo on the menu. The pan-fried cod was mild in flavouring and the seasoning was faint. However, there was still enough pop in each forkful to make the dish appetizing. And not having a fishy taste to the cod made it that more enjoyable. Adding to that the side of skordalia and the rice pilaf covered in a tomato based gravy made this my favourite Greek entrée. The mashed potatoes of the skordalia was actually a nice spread for the fish. But the rice pilaf with potatoes, carrots, and zucchini balanced out the mildness in the cod.
With the seafood dish, I wanted a glass of wine. I had told my server that I wanted a white wine, which is fitting with seafood and poultry, and he mentioned that he would bring a nice wine for me. I had not given any specifics (e.g., a dry white wine or a sweeter white wine) and I was thoroughly satisfied after my first sip. There was a combination of fruity highlights and floral notes. As I am sure that there could have been any selection of wines to accompany the cod, the glass of nectar that I had simply could not be surpassed with any other choice.
By the time I had finished my entrée, my sister had sent a text message to me to say that she was nearby. So, I waited and let my food settle some. Once she arrived and ordered, I opted for a dessert. There was baklava on the menu and having had that to excess as of late, I inquired about a certain Greek dessert that I think would be a sin to miss having at a Greek restaurant. I was curious as to whether there was galaktoboureko on the menu. To me, galaktoboureko is truly a slice of heaven, not just custard with a phyllo crust drizzled with a honey glaze. I enjoyed it very, very slowly along with a pot of peppermint tea.
With change, there is not always the guarantee of improvement. I only had one dining experience at Chara’s predecessor, Papaspiro’s, so I never got the opportunity to develop an attachment to the restaurant. I will admit that after only this one meal at Chara, I have developed an attachment to their fare. Part of it was the friendly service, which actually sets the tone for how great one will enjoy a meal. It also helped that the food was superbly appetizing. It was a package that I could not deny spiked my appetite. And if I were of lesser scruples, I would have stood at the end of my experience, grabbed a plate, smashed it against the floor and yelled, Opa!!!!!