In 2007 when my first adventurous restaurant friend and I were going through the alphabets, we skipped ahead to S for Senegalese at the recommendation of a mutual friend. The restaurant, Yassa, had been featured on a show called Check, Please! There was a lot of buzz about it then and when we went, we found out why. The were simply outstanding!
Fast forward to 2016 and Yassa has since moved from its location in the Grand Crossing neighbourhood to Bronzeville at 3511 S. King Drive. There is still the homey interior decor. The service doesn’t have the same welcoming feel as it did years ago, although the servers are accommodating after you’ve been seated and you’ve placed your order.
During this recent visit, I went with my sister, who is an addict for any West African cuisine. We started with fataya and nem, The fataya were meat pies stuffed with a tomato-based fish paste. For years ago, the stuffing made the pies hearty. There is still the mouth-watering taste, but the filling is less. The nem, which were smaller when I went in the past, were now larger and more filling. Having its base in Vietnam, many Vietnamese refugees had come to francophone West Africa during the Vietnam War and brought the egg roll recipe with them. Since then, it has been adopted in the West African diets, Senegal being one of the countries to add it to menus. Yassa brings them to America.
We ordered a dish of curry chicken with yams and djollof rice. The curry gravy was absolutely divine. The lack of meat on the chicken bones did take away from the dish. Being extremely comfortable using our fingers, my sister and I picked up the bones and sucked whatever meat there was off. With the sauce, we scooped it over the djollof rice and devoured that, after which we washed it down with a hibiscus favourite of bissap.
The final dish we wanted to try was the red snapper. This came as a whole snapper with bone in. Again, we used our fingers to pick up the fish and devoured it along with a side of more djollof rice, cabbage with carrots, and plantains. The skin on the fish was crispier than its preparation in 2007. Good thing the inside was meaty. The plantains were good, but a few more days would have made them perfect.
Those who like to go to restaurants that give large portions for menu items will love Yassa. The restaurant was quite lively and filled when we arrived. They were also preparing for a live band that was setting up for an evening set, so that may explain a bit of the scrambling with the table service as well as some “rushed feel” with the output from the kitchen. My sister and I admitted that we would probably have to return to try some other dishes that were familiar to us during our individual trips to Dakar.
Once again, Chicago has two options for Senegalese restaurants. There is Badou Senegalese in Rogers Park, covering the North Side. And there is Yassa in Bronzeville for those venturing through the South Side.