One of the things about living in Chicago is that you have to endure the obligatory minimum six months of winter. If you have lived in warmer climates and now live in the northern part of the United States, you tend to long for temperatures reminiscent of those above 60 degrees during the stretch of November through April. Unfortunately, those of us in Chicago tolerate the long months of cold weather because there is so much to do, so many places to go, and a host of restaurants that will serve as replacements for the restaurants you would find below the imaginary line that does not entertain frigid temperatures for extended lengths of time.
Of all the ethnic restaurants I have covered in the food journal, finding something representative of the letter D was quite a challenge. And then I decided to use Google to see what I could conjure up. Lo and behold, a set of Dominican restaurants are in the city of Chicago. One happens to be not too far from where I live. Talk about convenient. Talk about something to remind you of a warmer climate. Talk about me getting my book bag, camera, wallet, and appetite, and dashing out the door to go get fed.
Located at 3330 W. North Avenue on the ground floor of a brownstone building is Tropical Taste Restaurant. Upon entering, you really do find yourself immersed among those from the island or at most one generation removed. The only English I heard the entire time I was there was that from the television with the Chicago Bears putting a whipping on the Seattle Seahawks. Since I left before the game ended, I hope that Seahawks did not make a comeback and defeat the Bears. But I digress. The murals. The atmosphere. The patrons. The kitchen surrounded by a low counter that all in the restaurant could see. The food. All was a combination that I found with the sameness that I remember from jaunts throughout the Caribbean and, in particular, visiting Santa Domingo many years ago. You practically go into someone’s home to experience your food excitement. Even the owner’s daughters were actively playing and having their share of fun in the main area, since they were, for all intents and purposes, at home.
Tropical Taste Restaurant does not have one of those extensive menus that go on endlessly across five, six, or seven pages. There is a typed menu placed nicely under the see-through plastic on the tables. With it being Sunday, I saw that they had a certain dish that I could not get enough of in Dominican Republic, as well as I could not get enough of with an old friend I had met in Chicago who was from there and made it quite often for me in her kitchen. Sancocho. This dish is rather popular in several Latin cultures, but Dominican sancocho is the best known. This national dish is a stew that consists of white rice, potatoes, plantains, and usually chicken. Sancocho de gallina, chicken sancocho, is what I had and considering sancocho de gallina is often made for special occasions or on weekends, it was quite fitting for me today. I had wanted some manchu, which are mashed plantains, but they were out of them. The last of the plantains had gone into some previous customers’ sancocho and I got the last in mine. Perfect.
Would I return? Yes. Would I recommend it to anyone else? Yes. What I will add is that while the service is top, their comfort is with speaking Spanish primarily. Considering the neighbourhood, Spanish-speaking customers are the norm. It was easy for me and I think it made ordering and the whole experience more welcoming. The owner, discovering that I had no hesitation switching into Spanish, had started telling me about how long the restaurant has been in business — four years now — and how rewarding it has been coming from Dominican Republic with no English talents and thriving to date with the restaurant business. I will advise you to go with an appetite and be prepared to have some of the best dishes from Dominican Republic placed before you. Even if you may not be fluent or mildly conversational in Spanish, that is quite okay. There is plenty of comfort to be had, tasty food to eat, and warmth to defrost the chill from Chicago’s brutal winter.
16 January 2011