Disclaimer: This restaurant closed Spring, 2012.
I am the anti-manager. My mark? It’s $125,000. I never said that I didn’t have somewhat of a capitalist streak in me. But at the same time I am a writer and a photographer, an artist if you will — although I’m not trying to be about self-inflicted suffering as an affront to the machine like the usual cabal of artists. I have a mortgage, utility bills, and insurance to pay, as well as a penchant for extended international trips to beautiful and exotic places. I also have a great love of tasty food. So, in keeping with those responsibilities, I play nicely when it comes to my supervisor and in return, he gives good recommendations on some nice eateries in the Chicago area. Some may call it brown-nosing. Others may call it kissing up. There is very little difference between the two since it’s a matter of depth perception. Therefore, I prefer to call it networking.
For our latest restaurant outing, my supervisor offered a Chilean restaurant. Because we in the restaurant clique were trying to come up with a list of ethnic restaurants with the ethnicity beginning in C, it made sense. And since my supervisor is from Chile, hey, there you go. It was off to Rapa Nui at 4009 N. Elston Avenue in Chicago’s Avondale neighbourhood. Located just off the corner of Elson and Irving Park, Rapa Nui is not what one would call a hole in the wall. It was still more like going into someone’s home, though. The service was something akin to what you would expect from down South. There was the usual “welcome, come on in and make yourself at home” that we’ve received at all of the Latin restaurants we’ve gone to on our previous adventures. We arrived at the restaurant at 6:30, just before the crowd started coming in, and we got started.
Now, with empanadas being a main staple in Latin diets, there was no way that we were going to pass on a sampling of some. To make sure that we got our fill, we ordered six — cheese, spinach, ground beef with onions, salmon, chicken, and shrimp. The waitress was quite surprised when I said that we’d have one of each. I’m sure that there are some who go to the restaurant and order one, maybe two and that’s it as far as appetizers go. Well, we ordered one of every empanada on the appetizer section of the menu and requested an order of plantains, too. In addition to those two appetizers, we got complementary home made bread to go along with them. Did I mention the round of juices? Mango. Avocado. Pineapple. Strawberry. They must have had fruit trees in the back because the juices were as fresh and tasty as I remember during my trips to Jamaica. Um, um, good!
Having addressed the immediate set of eats in front of us without complaint, it was time for the entrées. Looking at the menu and taking a stab at what to order is good sometimes. But what’s really great is taking recommendations from the serving staff and that is exactly what we decided to do. We asked for four suggestions and after each one, we responded with, “Yes, we’ll have that.” We had humitas, which were Chilean seasoned puréed corn tamales, served with Chilean salad. Yum! The pastel de choclo was a Chilean corn pie — fried onions with ground beef, raisins and olives with a chicken leg. Hello! Want to salvage a broken marriage? Go and have some pastel de choclo and you’ll forget about any problems that you’ve ever had. When I get ready to propose, forget about a trip to Paris and a proposal under the Eiffel Tower. I’m taking my fiancée to Rapa Nui and order some pastel de choclo. But we still were not done. Next to the table was lomo a lo pobre. This was a huge plate of rib-eye steak served with two over-easy eggs, sautéed onions, and French fries. Watch out now! I used to think that sinking my pretty white teeth into a New York sirloin or a Texas steak was the next thing close to heaven. I have discovered that Latin eating with steaks on the menu is pure heaven, unadulterated, and all wrong when your facial expression shouldn’t show such pleasure in public. All we had to do was put slices of steak on our tongues and it melted like cotton candy. What a way to enjoy life. Perhaps my favourite would be the steak served with the polenta in a pot. I swear I could end up with a smoking habit after eating this particular dish on a constant basis. The steak was thin and braised to perfection. No restaurant critic could truly appreciate just how delicious the steak was and the polenta was the best that I’ve ever had. Usually polenta starts to take on the consistency of grits — ugh! blech! spit! spit! — but the polenta in this dish was consistently soupy, which was fine. And an added touch was it had a bit of sweetness to it without going overboard. That will be my next dish for keeping my marriage alive and vibrant — when I do get married, that is.
It took a little time for us to polish off all that sat in front of us, but it was no challenge for the four hungry jacks sitting at the table. And wouldn’t you know that there was still some room for more. With an ¡Oiga! we beckoned for a menu and ordered a plate of salmon with capers, a side of rice with “oh my god” shrimp, and more plantains. I don’t know how I made it home on my bicycle without pulling up to someone’s house and asking politely if I could relax on their couch. We considered leaving a bite on the plate out of some weird duty, but quickly realized that we were going to pay for all of that food and the last thing we needed to do was let any of it go to waste. That ended the conundrum of whether to leave some food on the plate. And we washed it all down with another round of juices.
For all that we ordered, the bill was pretty much in the range that we’ve been accustomed to paying when we go out for eats on our jaunts. Then again, I am the capitalist anti-manager. Can we say oxymoron, boys and girls? I think my manager has been holding out and he has some other recommendations up his sleeves. Hmmm. I am going to have to go into his office with a pair of scissors and snip off both sleeves and let those recommendations fall out on his desk. Yes, I may not be a lover of the management track, but I’d be a fool if I were to turn my back on any suggestions for good eats in Chicago. Anti-manager, yes. Capitalist, yes. Fool. No! And my recommendation to you, my reading audience, 4009 N. Elston isn’t all that far away. Go on up there and put your feet under a table at Rapa Nui. You won’t be disappointed and if you get the pastel de choclo or the steak with polenta in the pot, let me be the first to say that you’ll truly know what love is after you’ve finished eating those two dishes.