Too much left-over food from Thanksgiving and cabin fever set in. I had to get out of the condo. Forgetting — or rather convincing myself — that it was not cold outside, I checked the Internet for an Indonesian restaurant for kicks and giggles, bundled up, and headed to the bus stop so that I could venture to one that I did find after a brief search of the web. And seeing that the wind was quite its usual angry self, going to feast on some dish with a bite to it would erase the thoughts of the wind from Lake Michigan whipping tears from my eyes.
Found along a stretch of a busy street in Chicago’s Rogers Park is Angin Mamiri at 2739 W. Touhy Avenue. Not busy at all, and perhaps because the location is not in an area where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic, I stumbled across the restaurant which was tucked between what looked like a closed printing business and a small industrial business. Family owned, operated, and familiar like someone’s large family room, I took a window seat, a menu, and a glass of water and then I scanned the bill of fare to see what would make me forget that the temperature felt ten degrees colder than it really was. And while I noted the few items that I would try — those that I could pronounce without using English translation, I did see that there were a few other Indonesians in the restaurant. With Indonesians being more tropical and Chicago being everything but tropical except for two weeks in August, the presence of the other Indonesians gave indication that I was going to be in for authenticity.
I started with jalangkote, which were empanadas filled with ground chicken, clear noodles, celery, carrots, and onions, served up with a plum sauce. Bite. Bite. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Chew. Smile. While it certainly appears that every restaurant on the Chicago grid has empanadas on the menu, in some form or fashion, it is always a pleasing thing when they are actually delicious. The jalangkote at Angin Mamiri were small but full of flavour, enough to please the palate until the next appetizer or entrée came to the table. For my entree, I had udang balado — spicy shrimp in a red gravy with rice. Usually when restaurants have shrimp dishes, there are enough shrimp on the platter to warrant calling it a shrimp meal. The udang balado were not only plentiful but they were plump and to the point where they burst with WOW when you bit into them. Add to the fact that the gravy was not overpowering and did not drown any of the entrée, it was all satisfaction served up on decorative china. And to wash it all down, I had teh kotak, Indonesian tea. This iced tea had a hint of jasmine in it but it was not all green tea but red tea as well. My British sensibilities keep me brewing tea and drinking it hot, but the teh kotak is an iced tea that is indeed worthy.
While nearing my last few bites of the entrée, the waiter had come to my table to refill my glass of water. At that time I decided to engage him in conversation about the presence of any other Indonesian restaurants in Chicago. He then informed me that Angin Mamiri was the only Indonesian restaurant in Chicago and only one of three in the entire Midwest part of the United States. Conversation then turned to the fact that the restaurant is family owned. The waiter’s mother does all the cooking, which means that a lot of culture, beliefs, and traditions are stirred in the pot and served up for customers’ eating pleasure. And then he struck a bitter-sweet note: the restaurant will close in March for a few months and then they will open their doors again in Evanston. I had been telling myself to seek an Indonesian restaurant for weeks and had procrastinated. Then I find one only to discover that they are moving. But I was immediately okay with knowing that they are only going a few miles north of where they are now.
I wrapped up my meal with a dessert, of course. I opted for pisang goreng. Not everyone can fry a banana and bring a wide smile to your face. Angin Mamiri had my eyes rolling in the back of my head. They fried a naturally sweet plantain and served it up with condensed milk for dipping. Why did they do that? People post all sorts of statuses on Facebook and Twitter whenever they encounter or experience something out of this world. The pisang goreng with condensed milk was so blooming delicious that tinkering with my cell phone to post a status was not on my mind at all, let alone being the last thing on my mind. Satisfaction. Bliss. Sinful.
Although Angin Mamiri will be in Chicago proper for only a few more months, I shall have to make it a point to return between now and the time they close. For authenticity, taste, fabulous service, and atmosphere, it can be cold as it gets in Chicago. But going to Angin Mamiri felt like going home. It is always warm at home. And the food is always better at home than anywhere else.
27 November 2010