Lebanese — Semiramis


Semiramis - Outside

When you live in a metropolis you tend to take a lot of the city for granted. I had decided to purchase a bicycle so that I could tour much of my neighbourhood and surrounding neighbourhoods during the summer months. While riding through one section of the North Side where I would go to take my coffee, I had a chance to pass by Semiramis in Chicago’s Avondale. And since a past revolutionary friend and I had made a date to catch up with each other to catch up on how I like my new home and how she was loving her new, quiet neighbourhood, we agreed that 4639 North Kedzie Avenue would be our destination for food happiness.

Semiramis - Ground Chicken in Pastry

Much like many independent and family-owned restaurants on Chicago’s North Side, Semiramis was one of those alcoves that is absolutely fantastic for quiet dinners. There is the usual atmosphere of ambient lighting with light coming from lit candles on the tables mostly. The seating is close, which eliminates the need for you to scream at the person sitting next to or across from you. No sports bar scene when you are enjoying your wonder bites from the kitchen. That was perfect for my friend and me as we had planned to really reminisce about the madness we had escaped in our previous neighbourhood, threatening the aldermen and police if they did not act on the crime that had moved in to take up residence. It is amazing how much we have become so law abiding, considering we were willing to blackmail the alderman, rather alderwoman, if she did not scrub our crime infested neighbourhood to our satisfaction.

Semiramis - Schwarma Chicken Sandwich

We started with a plate of ground chicken in a flaky pastry that came with a dill cream for dipping. After the first bite, eyes rolled. By the second bite, conversation had ceased. Following the old adage that you should not talk with your mouth filled, we obeyed. Unlike at some restaurants where the chicken is dry or the pastry is simply not done right, Semiramis threw that bit of disappointment out the window. Not dripping with juice, the chicken was certainly succulent. The fact that we gobbled up the appetizer without grumbling or dread — leaving only a few flakes of crumbs on the plate — that was testament enough that this particular appetizer was a plate of satisfaction.

Semiramis - Dill Rice

My friend settle for a chicken schwarma for her main dish. It came with a side of mashed sweet potatoes. Yet again, the chicken was prepared just right, not dry, and not raw such it could run away from gnashing teeth. I can hear it now: You have to try “this” [other] restaurant because they really know how to do up a chicken sandwich. Well, so does McDonald’s and Burger King, but doing up a chicken sandwich and preparing a sandwich with care such that those sinking their teeth into it will shout “Glory Hallelujah” are two separate things. The latter applies to the chicken schwarma at Semiramis. And let’s discuss the mashed sweet potatoes. Once you have one bite of this masterpiece, you will not hesitate to shove you plate of plain Idaho mashed potatoes onto the floor to show disdain for being served that bold heap of whatever. Many restaurants and closet chefs have tried to make mashed sweet potatoes only to end up making a mess. Not done up such that all you would need is crust for a sweet potato pie, the mashed sweet potatoes were a huge hit.

Semiramis - Roasted Chicken

For my main dish, I ordered a roasted chicken on Mediterranean bread with a mashed potato dill spread and a huge plate of dill rice. Ridiculous. Ridiculous. Ridiculous. Did I say ridiculous? Again, we had a case where the chicken was just right, not overcooked and dry, and definitely not unconscious and slightly charred. Considering it was half of a chicken, I thought that it would be manageable. Yes, it was, after pacing myself for half of an hour devouring it along with the flat bread and the no-salt seasoned rice. Famous last words: There should be a crime against food tasting so blinking good. And as judge, jury, and executioner, the only punishment would be to have the chefs as my personal cooks to pay off their debt for such reckless abandon I experienced while showing my appreciation for this palate pleaser.

Chicago is well known for the many Central and South American restaurants. There appears to be a heavy concentration of those from the Middle East and Mediterranean part of the world, evident in the abundance of like restaurants that cater to the Middle Eastern palate. Disappointed? Not on your life. Shocked when the bill came? Yes. For what we ordered, the final tab was well below what we had expected to pay for all the fine eating we sampled. When we walked outside, thoroughly sated, we gave a heavy sigh. And we had a moment of clarity as we admitted that we love our current neighbourhood. As to our old neighbourhood, it went to utter hell after we left. What a shame. But there were no good restaurants in the area anyway such that we really cared.

9 August 2010
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