Paladar Cuban Restaurant and Rum Bar

Paladar Cuban Restaurant and Rum BarA few years ago while enjoying the great outdoors and having some Mexican food at a neighbourhood restaurant, the owner had mentioned a nearby Cuban restaurant that he thought I would enjoy. The name he gave was Paladar, at 2252 N. Western Avenue. Like a lot of recommendations, I filed the name and then forgot about it until recently when I was walking along Western Avenue. Let me just start by saying that I should start taking recommendations seriously.

Guava Mojito

Guava Mojito

Mango Mojito

Mango Mojito

Arriving early before the lunch crowd on a Saturday afternoon, I perused the menu, deciding on a common appetizer and leaving the main dish up to my server’s recommendation. To wet my palate, the first cocktail I had was a guava mojito. Reminding myself not to down it like I was thirsting for water, it was hard to fight the temptation to turn it up and finish it in a few gulps because it was mixed just that well. Not heavy-handed with alcohol, it was apparent that the recipe had a good bit of it by the time I got halfway through the drink.

Flight of Empanadas

Flight of Empanadas

Along with the guava mojito, I had a flight of empanadas. There was a guava with cheese that was the best of that kind that I’ve had at any other Cuban restaurants in Chicago. The shredded chicken was flavourful enough that I made it a point to order several for take-away. The same applied to the beef empanada that I ordered in equal quantity to enjoy later. All served with three sauces — house barbecue, spicy avocado, and habanero — these baked treats were worth indulging what most would consider usual fare at Latin American restaurants.

Sauces: Habanero, Spicy Avocado, Barbecue

Sauces: Habanero, Spicy Avocado, Barbecue

Usually when I go to Cuban restaurants I order what I consider safe dishes (e.g., ropa vieja sandwich or ropa vieja plate, arroz con pollo, or chuletas). This time I deviated by accepting my server’s recommendation for chivo. Having eaten more than my share of curried goat, the slow cooked goat stew served with congri and sweet plantains at Paladar was all the reminder I needed to develop a new love for this stew. From the meat falling off the bone without any help to the nice kick from the habanero to the sweet plantains that were caramelized rather than dry to yucca that fell apart on the fork, it should not have taken this long for me to indulge a plate of such an outstanding dish. And the mango mojito that I had with the main dish was a case of a bartender’s concoction done correctly.

Chivo

Chivo

For the finale, I opted for bomba. More like Italian tartufo, this came to the table as an ice cream ball of chocolate and vanilla ice cream encasing a maraschino cherry and slivered almonds, covered in a dark chocolate shell. I countered the cold with a café con leche, a perfect ending to a perfect meal. Perhaps I shall have traditional flan, bread pudding, or guava with cheese on my next visits, but the ice cream was a plus for my first pass.

Bomba y Cafe con Leche

Bomba y Cafe con Leche

During the first few times I had walked past Paladar, the restaurant seemed empty. On entry during my proper sit-down visit, the restaurant still seemed vacant, but then I realized there are two rooms in the restaurant. I sat in the front room, which filled in quickly after I had arrived and ordered. Noting the various cadences of Spanish spoken in the front room, I detected sing-sing Cuban Spanish, rapid fire Puerto Rican Spanish, easy-come-easy-go Mexican Spanish, and the ting-ting-ting of silverware on my plate. Given Chicago’s many Cuban restaurants on its landscape, it’s fantastic having one in Logan Square landscape that’s within short distance to home. I will need to get some more empanadas when I run out of the ones that I ordered to take home with me. Hint, hint.

Paladar Restaurant & Rum Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Artango, Food That Makes You Dance

Artango Bar & Steakhouse

I have a friend who is an actress. Years ago, she used to have stage plays in the Lincoln Square neighbourhood and we would catch up after plays at an Italian restaurant in the stretch of Lincoln Avenue between Leland Avenue and Lawrence Avenue. That restaurant has since closed and in its place is Artango at 4767 N. Lincoln Avenue. Recognizing the name from some emails I have received per recommendations for the restaurant, it was time for me to visit the replacement to the old Italian eatery while following through on the recommendations.

Raspberry Mojito

Raspberry Mojito

With the weather being nice enough for sitting outside, I perused the menu and opted for my version of a degustation without going strict “steakhouse” with the meal. I decided to let my server make the decisions for me, which is becoming routine for me and surprisingly enjoyable for my servers. For libations, I told my server I wanted a flight of mojitos and for him to have the bartender surprise me. The first mojito was a raspberry mojito and oh was it a delight on the palate. This was what I will call a true summer drink.

Trio de Ceviche

Trio de Ceviche

The first course was a trio de ceviche. Instead of cuts of seafood in cups of juice with cilantro, onions, and other seasoning, these came as clumps of fresh seafood. There was corvina fish that looked fatty, but was rather meaty. There was a tuna with black mint and topped with a small seaweed salad. The third ceviche was shrimp in a passionfruit sauce. The flavour of the seafood was rather light and the accents in the recipe were also not heavy. All served with plantain chips, this is a good starter without filling up.

Mango Mojito

Mango Mojito

The second mojito was a manjo mojito. Very much like the raspberry mojito, the method used in mixing in the alcohol was done in a way that the alcohol did not jump out immediately. It became obvious after finishing most of the cocktail. If I never had another regular mojito, I would not complain. If I return to Artango and having the mango mojito is not possible, I will indeed complain. This was what I will call a beach drink.

Gazpacho

Gazpacho

The second course was a gazpacho. Served with a medley of chopped red and green bell peppers, grilled toast, and a lump of crab, this gazpacho was enough to invoke a desire for dancing. This was a pleasant surprise because cold soup can taste only like chilled tomato juice if it is not prepared the correct way. And since I have never prepared a gazpacho, I shall concede that Artango has the recipe and preparation under control.

 

Pineapple Mojito

Pineapple Mojito

Easing into the third course, I had a pineapple mojito. All while I sipped it, I kept thinking that if there had been some ginger in it, it would have tasted exactly like june plum juice that you get in Jamaica. The pineapple flavouring was not heavy-handed, but the alcohol was also not heavy on the tongue. Yet, I did have a “Gino in the Sky with Mojitos” moment later. And I was okay with that. This was what I call a tropical getaway drink.

Ravioli

Ravioli

The third course was a ravioli. I know that there may be some who are screaming, “How can you go to a steakhouse and not have steak or any meat?” I am saving the meat indulgence for when I return with friends in a few weeks. Now, the ravioli was still good enough for devouring and may very well be a great accompaniment to a plate of meat. The stuffing contained ricotto cheese and cherry tomatoes. The sauce was not hearty, but it still packed a punch in terms of flavour. Topped with homemade mozzarella and basil, yes, this will go great with some sirloin.

Churros

Churros

The finale consisted of churros that came with a chocolate sauce and also with a raspberry coulis. For all the raving over doughnuts, give me homemade churros from Artango. I will eat them on the bus. I will eat them on the subway. I will eat them in my office. I will eat them on my couch. I will eat them, Sam-I-Am, and I know none of this rhymes. As you can tell, they were worthy. With the churros, I had a cafe con leche. Cubans still dominate the market in making the best cafe con leches, but Artango does a mean one that does not require any sweeteners. I recommend getting churros to go with the cafe con leche, though.

Cafe con Leche

Cafe con Leche

Artango not only dishes out some lip-smacking Argentinean love from the kitchen, but they also have tango classes for those who want to learn how to tango or for those who will have eaten too much and want to work off some of the food. The service was top. When I trust my server to put in the order to the kitchen without me giving exact directions and the entire meal leaves me sated, there is no argument that the service is fantastic. As to the bar service, the bartender deserves an encore. I’m sure I’ll make the same observations about service and food when I return. Sam-I-Am dared me to go back and I love dares.

Artango Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Cubanito, For the Love of the “Sammich”

El Cubanito

Logan Square had a small walk-up on the far west end of the neighbourhood for years. El Cubanito at 2555 N. Pulaski Road was a favourite that served Cuban sandwiches and was a magnet for locals as well as those from other neighbourhoods. And as many times as I had walked by it, I never got in any of the long lines to try out their sandwiches. And then there was a change to the walk-up. It closed and expanded into a nice sized restaurant. I then made it a point to go for a visit.

Cafe con Leche

Cafe con Leche

I had gone several months ago and had a ropa vieja since I wanted something fast. I was completely blown away with how much I loved the way they piled the sandwich with shredded beef in a rather savoury tomato-based gravy. Added to that the plantains on the sandwich and I understood the long lines when the restaurant was a walk-up. Recently, I returned and had a steak sandwich. Chopped steak, swiss cheese, lettuce, shoestring potatoes, and house sauce fell from between the bread. There was nothing neat about the sandwich and that was fine, especially once each bite captivates you. Besides, you get a fork so that you can finish anything that falls back into the carton that the sandwich comes in. And the cafe con leche I ordered resulted in me returning a day later for another one. Like other Cuban restaurants I’ve gone to, the cafe con leche is addictive.

Cubano Steak

Cubano Steak

There are a few other sandwiches on the menu, a house soup, arroz con leche, flan, and beverages ranging from coffee to sodas. There isn’t an extensive menu and this may serve El Cubanito well because they’re excelling in a few sandwiches rather than being all over the place with a booklet of items to prepare. If there is one thing I have learned about these small cafes and walk-ups is that the lines are not long because those places are novelties. The lines are long because the food makes you forget whatever promises you’ve made to someone else and show up so that you can get fed.

El Cubanito Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cuba 312 in the 773

Cuba 312A few weeks ago while going to a restaurant in Chicago’s Roscoe Village neighbourhood, I noticed a Cuban restaurant on the landscape. Cuba 312 at 2054 W. Roscoe Street was apparently new, as of the past few months. Or I had been distracted by other restaurants on the block. Needless to say, there was no way that I was going to let time slip by me without going to see what kind of food fare they had for my appetite.

Cafe Con Leche

Cafe Con Leche

Comfy and spacious on the inside, the server greeted me with a hearty welcome. That set a tone for great customer service. And because I had arrived not too soon after the doors had opened for business for the morning, I had a bit of time to order in an experimental fashion without any rush. There were a few items on the menu that piqued my craving. I mentioned my likes and let the server make recommendations for appetizers and a sandwich.

While I waited for the food to come to the table, I had a cafe con leche. Let me say that if you go to a Cuban restaurant and turn your nose up at the option of having a cafe con leche, you should be ashamed. At Cuba 312, there seemingly was a balance to whatever measuring they did such that the cafe con leche was not excessively sweet and whatever bean they used for the coffee was of high quality.

Empanadas: Pollo y Mariscos

Empanadas: Pollo y Mariscos

First to the table was an order of empanadas. There was a chicken empanada that had well seasoned, shredded chicken and potatoes in a savoury sauce. There was also a seafood empanada that was in another tasty sauce. Served with a chimichurri sauce, the window seat was the wrong place to sit for a display of food happiness experienced at each bite. For years I had searched for empanadas to rival some that a Chilean restaurant I had gone to served before they closed. My search ended today at Cuba 312.

Jibarito Pollo con Arroz y Frijoles

Jibarito Pollo con Arroz y Frijoles

Next to the table was the sandwich of all sandwiches. I had a jibarito pollo. Many say that jibaritos became a staple born out of Cuban communities in New York City rather than off the island of Cuba. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever Cuban came up with the notion of a sandwich served between tostones, or pressed and fried plantains, created a masterpiece wherever he or she was. And following in that tradition, the jibarito at Cuba 312 came with seasoned, tender chicken, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and a zesty mayonnaise that resulted in the sandwich getting undivided attention. This dish came with white rice and frijoles that also felt my appreciation.

Honey Pistachio Flan

Honey Pistachio Flan

It was a casual morning, so I treated myself to two desserts. The first one was a honey pistachio flan. Wow. Once you have had a flan that is creamy, and not of the Jell-O variety, you will take a vow of never eating flan of any other texture. The server described the texture as that of crème brûlée, but it seemed less grainy, almost like a combination of a mousse and custard. Topped with whipped cream and a strawberry, this falls into the cloud 9 dessert category. And, as if the flan was not already an outstanding item, there was a cup full of coconut sour cream cake with pineapples and lime zest accompanied with toasted coconut ice cream. Jesus Christ. Muhammed. Buddha. Osirus. Odin. Zeus. Ego. Money. I think this was a feature dessert. All I can say is call ahead to see if it is on the menu. It is a must-have.

Coconut Sour Cream Cake with Toasted Coconut Ice Cream

Coconut Sour Cream Cake with Toasted Coconut Ice Cream

The Roscoe Village stretch of Roscoe Street between Western Avenue and Damen Avenue is a pedestrian’s fun spot. From clothing boutiques, to wine shops, to brunch locations, to eateries with international cuisine, there is something certain to appeal to your sensibilities. And if you are one who enjoys authenticity in your food, Cuba 312 is one of the few restaurants that I recommend highly. One thing that I am a stickler about in my dining experience is service and the service here is arguably top. Add to that some good Cuban food, you don’t have to wait until flights to Cuba from America open up. Va a Cuba 312 a 2054 W. Roscoe Street ahora. ¡Rapido!

Cuba 312 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Señor Pan Cafe, Cuban Food Bliss

Señor Pan Cafe

The thing about engaging strangers in conversation and they finding out that you are more of a fan of seeking restaurants that deviate from group think, they offer suggestions that put you in the path of authenticity. While recently switching between English and Spanish with a friend talking about wanting to find a restaurant in Chicago’s Humbolt Park area, some Cubans who overheard the conversation quickly recommended Señor Pan Cafe at 2615 W. North Avenue. This was not the first time I had received a recommendation for this cafe from Puerto Ricans or Mexicans, so hearing it from Cubans meant it moved to first place in my “Must Go” list. And upon entering and hearing the rapid fire Spanish at most of the tables spoken by Cubans, I’d hit oro (gold).

Cafe Con Leche

Cafe Con Leche

The temperatures in Chicago had been doing the warm temperature, chilly temperature waffling and today was a day where it was mild in the sun and chilly in the shade. On the way to Señor Pan Cafe, much of my walking was in the shade, as were the bus stops. By the time I arrived, I needed a little something to defrost. Cafe con leche was my beverage of choice and a very good one. I should have known when I told the server that was what I wanted and the response I got was a smile and, “Muy bueno.”

For a starter, I ordered plantanos fritos y frijoles negros. The thinly sliced, fried plantains looked a tad bit too perfect. The texture and flavour spoke to just how perfect they were. Crispy such that they didn’t get soggy, I used them to dip the black beans that had enough seasoning without crossing the line into ridiculous. I could have had this appetizer in an entrée size.

Plantanos Fritos y Frijoles Negros

Plantanos Fritos y Frijoles Negros

I had already settled on ordering a sandwich. Many of the sandwiches on the menu were pork-centric. The one sandwich that I knew I could fall back on was the ropa vieja, since it had a recipe of shredded beef in a tasty tomato sauce. Dios mios. At most Cuban restaurants where I have gone, the ropa vieja sandwich had plantains in the recipe. That was not the case at Señor Pan Cafe. That was not a problem either, as the sandwich was substantial, and I had ordered the small version of the sandwich. I had finished all of it and all of the plantanos fritos y frijoles negros. There was no room for dessert.

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

Señor Pan Cafe is small, so consider going with a small party if you’re interested. With me being conversational in Spanish, I had a little more conversation with the server and a few others in the restaurant than I probably would have if I had not switched into Spanish. For example, although I did not order a dessert, when I had inquired about a certain dessert on the menu, everyone behind the counter was telling me to get the flan instead when I returned. They also told me to come for breakfast, which goes well beyond, “Thanks for coming and we hope to see you again soon.” I was one satisfied customer. And since I did exchange email addresses with the Cubans who recommended it, I sent them a note to thank them. The quick response I received: When are you going again?

Senor Pan Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cohiba Cuban Cuisine, Azuca, Azuca

Cohiba Cuban Cuisine

While wanting to get closer to Montrose Beach along Lake Michigan on Chicago’s North Side for a friend’s gathering, my appetite would not allow me to linger around with a growling belly before the come-together. I was in the Lakeview area in advance and not trying hard to tolerate my hunger pains. As luck, fate, or serendipity would have it, I was standing in front of Cohiba Cuban Cuisine at 2835 N. Broadway Street. Talk about great timing. Talk about being decisive enough to just go in. Talk about channeling my inner Celia Cruz: ¡Azucar!

Cafe Con Leche

Cafe Con Leche

Realizing that I had plenty of time before the mid afternoon, I scanned the menu for something to satisfy my craving. There was a moment of indecisiveness before I said that I would start with a tostones rellenos de camarones, followed by a sopa de pollo. Curious as to what my server would recommend for a main dish, I accepted her suggestion for ropa viejo. And during my wait, I had a cup of cafe con leche. There is definitely an assurance that getting a cafe con leche at any Cuban restaurant or cafe may be the best option you exercise for the day, the cafe con leche at Cohiba being the one option of the day that I think made my day bright.

Tostones Rellenos de Camarones

Tostones Rellenos de Camarones

Sopa de Pollo

Sopa de Pollo

Seeing that the tostones rellenos de camarones was on the appetizer list, I thought that it was going to be small. It was rather substantial and an automatic favourite by the first bite. This was a green plantain stuffed with shrimp prepared in a tasty tomato sauce. Not peppery, but spicy nonetheless, I devoured as much as possible, while saving room for the sopa de pollo. This was the first moment that I mumbled ¡Azucar! under my breath. Filled with tender chicken, peppers, and miniature noodles, and with a chewy roll that was also ideal for sopping, I was quite pleased at having ordered this menu item.

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

Requiring some time before indulging the main dish, the server waited accordingly before bringing me a traditional Cuban dish that I usually order as a sandwich. The flavour of the shredded beef in a tomato base was mild, but it still was inviting enough that I refused to leave any. This was served with savoury black beans, sweet plantains, and rice. Thankful that the large party sitting not far from me was fully engaged in animated conversation, I was glad they did not hear me singing “Guantanamera” by Celia Cruz and mouthing ¡Azucar! Needless to say, these old clothes I liked a lot.

Flan de Vanilla

Flan de Vanilla

Now I was proper fed, but I was not yet finished. Per my server’s second recommendation, I had traditional flan de vanilla. Accompanied by another cafe con leche, I don’t know how I managed to walk upright after I was done. This was not some flan from the frozen section at a local market. I appreciated the caramel not being excessively sugary. And the flan had the texture of creamy quesillos. Also, having eaten so much already, the flan was just right for me being able to finish all without struggling.

Cohiba Cuban Cuisine is a medium sized restaurant with an “at home” atmosphere that I love. I went during late morning/early afternoon before the crowd began coming. Lucky for me because I got to not only enjoy the meal, but to at least get recommendations and even chat about Cuban food without there being any rush. There are a few Cuban restaurants I have gone to in Chicago and several that I will have to try in good time. But this was the first time that I couldn’t suppress my inner Celia Cruz. ¡Azucar!.

Cohiba Cuban Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato