Prairie Grass Cafe, Northbrook Tasty

 

Prairie Grass Cafe

This has been a slow year for blogging, for me. Two things have been at play  1) I bought an Instant Pot and have become a pressure cooker fanatic and 2) the heat, severe thunderstorms, and humidity have been prohibitive for doing much of anything that requires going outside. So, with spending hours in the gym after work and cooking at home more with intent to gain weight — yes, I know that losing weight is most people’s goal — I have been rather laxed with my posting. Well, thanks to a recent recommendation, I got the kick I needed to get back on track.

Complementary Bread

Complementary Bread

Prairie Grass Cafe at 601 Skokie Boulevard in Northbrook, Illinois, gave me a chance to return to an area that was my receiving post when I moved from New York to the Metropolitan Chicago area. Very spacious in both main dining and bar areas, this restaurant is a nice escape from the rush of Chicago proper for some flavors that top many restaurants that constantly make the “Best Of” lists that circulate annually.

My restaurant advisor and I arrived for a Saturday evening seating and opted for a variety of dishes so that we could get a sampling of different menu offerings.  Back to our usual practice of giving dietary specifications, we left the selections up to our server.  Clearly loving a challenge, she was up for it and everything that came to the table was an indication that trusting her was an outstanding idea.

Mozzarella Salad

Mozzarella Salad

We started with a mozzarella salad that came with heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, micro salad, basil remoulade, and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Having an addiction for tomatoes, this was already a winner. It was simply nice having a salad that you could taste the tomatoes, as opposed to what often tastes like “essence” of tomatoes.

Corn Fritters

Corn Fritters

Egg Rolls

Egg Rolls

The next two appetizers were not only bite size, but also very satisfying on the palate without being too much. The corn fritters were touted as one of the most recommended items on the menu. After the first bite, it was apparent why they are a favorite. Imagine a doughnut hole with corn kernels in them. Served with a honey butter, these fritters could be dessert. The shrimp egg rolls were where we have a hint of an Asian influence. The pop in the egg rolls came with the size and freshness of the shrimp. There was no excessive seasoning, which helped the taste of each bite of shrimp come through.

Cod with Slaw

Cod with Slaw

A dish that played well to my British sensibilities was the plate of cod and coleslaw. The cod reminded me of days spent at fish and chips shops throughout Newcastle. Admittedly, I would have preferred chips with the fish rather than the coleslaw, the slaw added a nice accompanying touch to the dish. The addition of the grapes in the dish balanced it out such that it was neither bitter, nor sour, nor sweet. It was just right and even Goldilocks would agree.

Hangar Steak with Mushrooms and Potatoes

Hangar Steak with Mushrooms and Potatoes

Having a bit of turf to the dining experience, we had hangar steak over mushrooms and potatoes. Going with medium, what came to the table was a plate of perfection, meat so succulent and tender that cutting it was as effortless as slicing through air. Well seasoned au jus and complete lip-smacking without much salt, many steakhouses that I have been to over the years could stand to take a course in preparing a steak without flare so that diners could actually enjoy the flavor, just like what we had at Prairie Grass Café.

Salmon

Salmon

Back to the sea, the salmon with house barbecue sauce over Mexi-corn with a corn purée was divine. The salmon was flaky and surprisingly had a texture of skate. Those who have had skate know how moist and silky the fish feels on the palate. Well, the same was the case with the salmon. This was a winner.

Raspberry Cream Pie

Raspberry Cream Pie

Having a little time between the main courses and dessert, we allowed a few minutes before indulging sweets. The first was a cream pie topped with raspberries and accented with a sprig of mint. The beauty of this dessert was that the filling was cream cheese and whipped cream, which made it light. Topped with fresh raspberries and a homemade compote that you could smell, thanks to it not being from a can or a jar, this pie could quickly become a favorite.

Devils Food Cake

Devils Food Cake

The double chocolate cake was nothing short of truth serum. Extremely moist and yet not so sugary that it was overpowering, the rich texture certainly induced a bit of comatose. We, of course, balanced that out with coffee. While some may resort to calling this devils food cake, it was heavenly, nonetheless. And the star of the show was the sticky toffee date cake. Again, this was a cake that should be used as an example of what moist means. At most restaurants, date cakes have the course texture of cornbread. That was not the case with this date cake. It is one that would make a great autumn cake and it would pair well with mulled cider or spiced tea. We may even return during the fall months and see if that’s possible.

Sticky Toffee Date Cake

Sticky Toffee Date Cake

Prairie Grass Cafe is not what one could call a hidden gem. It is very surprising that it has not made any recommended lists because the restaurant excels in two very important areas: delicious food and top service. Farm-to-table and local source restaurants are becoming more popular, as people are now wanting their food to be fresh and restaurants are also starting to support local farmers, which ensures quality ingredients for menu items. Prairie Grass Cafe is more than worth a try. It should be top on your list.

Prairie Grass Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

California Pizza Kitchen, When Change Is Good

California Pizza Kitchen

Years ago when I worked on the Magnificent Mile, a colleague had a love for California Pizza Kitchen. It had become something of a palate cleanser for having too much pizza from Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s, and other Chicago-style pizza eateries. For me, too much pizza, period, had made me lose interest in ever returning to any pizzeria, California Pizza Kitchen included. Imagine my surprise when I received an invitation for a review.

Complimentary Bread, Olive Oil

Bread with Olive Oil

My restaurant advisor, who had also worked with me in the Magnificent Mile, and I recently went to the location in Arlington Heights, Illinois, at 3 S. Evergreen Avenue. Not a considerable distance via commuter train, we arrived for dinner one evening after work. The restaurant was quite lively with families and friends. The front room service was top.

Flight of Sangria

Flight of Sangrias

While perusing the menu, we noticed that there was less focus on pizzas and the specialty pastas that our mutual colleague and we had indulged numerous times years past. Instead, there were appetizers and entrées that piqued our interests more than the usual fare that we remembered. Certainly thinking that it would be a better option to try something different, we told our server to make recommendations and send the dishes to the table. We did stipulate that we preferred to avoid pizza and pasta.

As we waited, we imbibed some rather refreshing cocktails. I ordered a flight of sangrias ranging from a white plum to peach to red raspberry. My restaurant advisor had a strawberry mojito. What we both noticed was that the cocktails did not have the watered recipe that one finds in drinks served at big box restaurants. These had the bracing snap of having been mixed by a mixologist.

Strawberry Mojito

Strawberry Mojito

We had a mini complimentary loaf of bread with herbed olive oil. Basil Leaf Cafe, which is one of my favourite Italian restaurants in Chicago proper, preps their olive oil in the same manner. A huge plus with the bread being fresh, the complimentary feature was great.

Tequeños

Tequeños

First to the table was a plate of tequeños. Very reminiscent of tequeños that I have had at a few Peruvian restaurants, the chicken and avocado in the ones at California Pizza Kitchen were mouth-watering. The added ingredient of bacon in the tequeños was unexpected. Then again, we didn’t order from the menu, but rather let our server handle the menu selections. Nevertheless, we were pleased.

The first entrée was a plate of herbed roasted chicken with vegetables. It was by the second bite that we wondered why the restaurant had not been highlighting such delectable dishes more in the past. The chicken was not only tender, but it was incredibly juicy. Add to that well seasoned cauliflower, squash, and potatoes, this dish actually rivaled chicken dishes that I have eaten at some restaurants in Chicago that people rant and rave about as if the meat had been marinated in gold.

Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

Herb Roasted Chicken with Vegetables

The second entrée was the final determinant that California Pizza Kitchen had decided to take a different approach with its menu offerings. The rib eye steak topped with a light garlic paste had been cooked to a perfect medium well that left the meat succulent. The salad in a light vinaigrette and the fingerling potatoes that had been seasoned with touches of basil comprised  a dish that my advisor and I agreed was better than some steak dinners we’ve had at a few noteworthy restaurants.We had not expected such a divine meal up to this point.

Ribeye Steak, Salad, Potatoes

Steak with Salad and Potatoes

Rather than order multiple desserts, we settled on a butter cake topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and garnished with whipped cream. As sated as we were from the complimentary bread, appetizer, and entrées, it still would have been a crime to have left any of the dessert. Although the cake was pedestrian in it’s presentation, it was anything but regular on the palate. With a cup of coffee each, we finalized the dessert and acknowledged that California Pizza Kitchen was a winner.

Butter Cake, Ice Cream

Butter Cake with Ice Cream

During a brief conversation with one of the staff members of the restaurant, there was mention that California Pizza Kitchen had started a move towards offering dishes that appeal to customers that preferred an expanded menu. It seemed that a certain age bracket preferred pizza and pasta, while an older age bracket had a taste for finer menu items. Without deviating from their core menu, the enhanced menu seems to have been influenced as a result of listening to their regular customer base. What they have done now was enriched their offerings for also enticing refined palates.

California Pizza Kitchen 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

Sink, Swim, Eat the Way

Time away does the body good. No Facebook. No need to switch into reactionary mode responding to email. No twitching when the phone rings. Even abroad, it means eating without interruption. Oh, but to see how two weeks of stuffing your jaws seemingly fills in your flattened tummy. It’s back to the gym to work extra hard flattening the tummy again and making the abs pop — while showing some love at the many restaurants in Chicago.

Sink | Swim

In the Southern end of Logan Square is Armitage Avenue. What was once a desert is now undergoing a silent renaissance. A year ago I stumbled upon what has become my favourite Italian restaurant in America. And all within walking distance are other swanky shops, cafes, and restaurants that seem to foster community rather than merely being magnets for crowds. Sink | Swim at 3213 W. Armitage Avenue is one of the new restaurants that caught my eye. Had I not been on foot, I would have passed by it without a second glance. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I did.

Cocktail with Gin Base

Cocktail with Gin

Crushed Cucumber Salad

Crushed Cucumber Salad

Waffling between jet lag and ravenous, I scanned the menu and made a quick decision. And just to be punchy, I ordered with the seasons in mind. I started with a crushed cucumber salad and a cocktail that had a gin base. Expecting the salad to be a small plate, my eyes widened when I saw a rather substantial bowl of sliced cucumbers and seaweed served over creme fraiche. The dressing was not heavy, so I could taste the garden fresh cucumbers. The seaweed reminded me of crispy kale. And the cocktail was a splendid complement, refreshing on the palate without any alcohol being overpowering.

Shrimp Toast

Shrimp Toast

Cocktail with Rum Base

Cocktail with Rum Base

For my second course, I had something that I thought would put me in the mind of summer. There was shrimp toast and a cocktail with a rum base. The shrimp toast looked like dainty little sandwiches. Once you got a bite of the shrimp with radish, aioli, and avocado along with a side of summer greens, what you may think is a small plate is not so small after all. I could have had another order of this dish if I hadn’t opted for a small degustation. I was quite impressed by the two savoury sandwiches. And the cocktail with rum as the main ingredient had me thinking of sunsets and recovering from jet lag properly.

Cocktail with Templeton Rye Base

Cocktail with Templeton Rye Base

Whole Gulf Shrimp

Whole Gulf Shrimp

My third course was what I considered my autumn enticement. There was a large bowl of whole shrimp in a white barbecue sauce with fennel and smoked apples. I initially thought the dish looked cute until I bit down into one of the plump shrimp and immediately became addicted. This was the kind of entrée that one would find on the menu at refined Asian restaurants. By the time I got around to working on the third shrimp, I was talking to my food like I usually do. The autumn cocktail I had with Templeton rye was the coup de grace to finalize my deep sleep for the evening. I will have to check the bar menu because the selections the bartender matched with my meals were spot on.

Smoked Chocolate Cake

Smoked Chocolate Cake

And since I was going all out with the dining experience, I had a finale of French pressed coffee with cream and a smoked chocolate cake. The cake was as cute as a button and as rich and decadent as a super moist brownie. Apparently before retrieving the cake from the oven, the chef allows the cake to get exposed to some smoked wood chips. I like different, but I love deliciously exotic and that is exactly what this cake was. Topped with dulce de leche and sprinkled with a generous amount of crushed hazelnuts, I was rather happy that Sink | Swim is in my neighbourhood within close proximity.

Given I was on the hunt for something to eat, I had read a few reviews of Sink | Swim several weeks prior to my visit. There were complaints about the plates being too small, the smell of the sea in the restaurant, and a few other unsavoury points of contention. I asked my server about the small plates and the recommendation that he gave was that they are to be enjoyed with no more than two individuals because of the portions. Ah, yes, that makes perfect sense. A group of five or more having fits over a dish consisting of three pieces is a bit far-reaching. As to the other conniptions pointed out in reviews, the restaurant must have taken those assessments into consideration because what I experienced was a rather divine meal in a swanky atmosphere with top service. While I sank in my bed, thoughts of the degustation of four courses with the flight of three cocktails swam through my thoughts. And it had also occurred to me that I didn’t have a proper smoke afterwards. Oh, wait, I don’t smoke.

Sink Swim Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

La Sirena Clandestina, Vai, Vai, Vai

La Sirena Clandestina

Chicago’s West Loop district has proven to be something of a Wonderland. I was already aware of the many restaurants and cafes that dotted the landscape. However, I never ventured into the meat packing district of the West Loop, except for once to meet some friends at a pork-centric restaurant that spiked my blood pressure. And I had forgotten about another high-end restaurant named Moto that I’d gladly go back to if it were not for the fact that the price for the meal would nibble considerably at my play budget. Nevertheless, there are some gems in the area I haven’t visited and one that suited my fancy was La Sirena Clandestina at 954 W. Fulton Market. At the recommendation of a colleague, I got to sample some loving from the kitchen with a heavy Brazilian influence.

Caipirinha

Caipirinha

Having arrived early after work, I had a pick of seats near the window. I had to sit where I could take advantage of the late sunset, considering the restaurant looked like it gets rather dark. On entry, the guy who seated me kept asking if we knew each other. This has been an ongoing inquiry for the past few months. And I never manage to run into my doppelganger. After he had detected my accent, he then realized we had never met and he then told me to get a caipirinha for a cocktail, as I would not be sorry. Wow! Wow! Wow! Strong, flavourful, refreshing, and addictive are just a few words that had come to mind after the first few sips. My lookalike had to have been a good friend because he started with an outstanding suggestion.

Empanadas: Ropa Vieja and Squash

Empanadas: Ropa Vieja and Squash

Because I am a lightweight, I had to have something to start balancing out the alcohol in the caipirinha. The server had recommended the empanadas if I were one who enjoyed indulging them. I didn’t think I could go wrong with empanadas, so I ordered two, a ropa vieja — old clothes — and a squash. The Best Actor Award for keeping a straight face and trying not to squeal with food bliss goes to me. The barbecue sauce in the ropa vieja had a faint hint of goat cheese in it, which added an extra flavour that made me love that empanada even more. I have no words to describe how much the squash empanada made me want to smack the table. Those empanadas were nothing short of heaven in baked pastries.

Black Beans and Rice

Black Beans and Rice

As always, my food alarm was ringing and I was buzzing from the caipirinha. So, I ordered a side of black beans and rice to get me worked up to a masterpiece entree item. Accented with pork, but not overloaded with it, this dish reminded me of red beans and rice and how much I loved that dish when I was a kid sitting at my grandmother’s table. I was thankful that, unlike some black beans and rice I’ve had at a restaurant I will not name, the dish was not salty. And then came the moqueca. Different from moqueca that I have had before, it was still good enough for me to have wanted to tip the bowl and slurp afterwards. The stew seemed to lack coconut milk in the base and instead of rice, there were lentils in the dish. The mussels, prawns, and tilapia were fresh and I was happy. I was happier with the second, accompanying caipirinha.

Moqueca

Moqueca

By the time I had finished everything, I should have left well enough alone. I couldn’t. I had to have more. But I had to wait. There was some dessert that needed to be loved and I had to love it unconditionally, which meant without feeling I would be too stuffed to complete a sweet. Thankful that I had my Kindle Fire with me, I read a few chapters of a book and then was ready for action again. I ordered a plate of almond cake with slices of blood orange and some almonds atop a creme anglaise. Looking at the almond cake, I thought it was going to have the consistency of cornbread. It had the texture of a cloud and without being too sweet, it was a rather flavourful cloud. Because the caipirinhas were doing this “Your eyes are getting very, very heavy” thing to me, I needed some coffee to counter my food and drink comatose. When I was done with the cake, I smacked the table.

Almond Cake

Almond Cake

The beauty of La Sirena Clandestina is that while it is small compared to some of the big box restaurants in the West Loop, diners are not rushed. It seems like a rather great place to go for a date — or to meet before a tryst. Okay, so it’s not that kind of place, but there is an atmosphere of ease that makes it a very inviting restaurant. Add to that some delicious food, and you have the makings of a food magnet. I didn’t have the feijoada, which is a traditional Brazilian dish like moqueca, so I can’t say if all of the dishes are variations of what is served in Brazil. What I will say is that La Sirena Clandestina is in my slideshow.

Vai, vai, vai, vai, vai. (What Bossa Nova songs is that from?)

La Sirena Clandestina on Urbanspoon

The Reinvention Episode

Kabul House

For my 40th birthday, my friends at the time had made reservations for a return visit to Kabul House, which was in the Eastern part of Skokie at the time.  Kabul House was the first restaurant that I had blogged when I started Chicago Alphabet Soup. After going down the list of alphabets, I had never returned to the top of the alphabet for a visit back to Kabul House or to any other Afghani restaurants in the Chicago metropolitan area. I had gone to an Italian restaurant and the web owner sent a beautiful response to my blog write-up of the restaurant and followed up with a recommendation for going to Kabul House. My response was that I had gone to Kabul House, only to discover that the original location I gone to had closed. I was rather disappointed because there were no other Afghani restaurants in the city and the experience was incredible the two times that I had gone. There was a bittersweet moment while having to update Chicago Alphabet Soup accordingly. Fast forward to  2013 and I finally made it a point to go to the new location.

Cardamom Tea

Cardamom Tea

Aush-Rishta

Aush-Rishta

At 4949 Oakton Street in Skokie, Illinois, is the new location for Kabul House. The section of town where it resides has a bit of a residential feel to it with a small booming business location.  Only a few weeks ago I was in the area at a neighbouring Jamaican restaurant. But I had to revisit the place where it all began, albeit at a new locale, so that I could update Chicago Alphabet Soup with current foodtography. Spacious and light on the inside, I sat near a window so that I could have natural light for my compositions. These shots had to be special, although no more special than any other photos I have taken of food. Once the server came to table and warned me that there were some items not available because a private party the night before had wiped them out of some staple dishes that they serve, I relied on recommendations for what I should order. Knowing I was going to capture the impressions of the dishes, I wanted everything linearly so not all dishes came at once and the order was placed accordingly.

Mantoo

Mantoo

I started with an aush-rishta. This soup consisted of chickpeas, lentil, red kidney beans, and noodles with fenugreek, parsley, cilantro, and garlic. Immediately after the first slurp, I was reminded of harrira that I have had at Algerian cafes and at some other North African restaurants.  There was absolutely nothing disappointing about the soup. And with the soft, homemade bread that came complimentary, I had no shame at all when I took pieces of the bread and sopped of the last of the gravy that was left when I had finished handling the soup. Instead of ordering a cold drink, I had cardamom tea that was bottomless. Being a tea snob, and by that I mean someone who drinks tea that is brewed from loose leaves as opposed to from tea bags, I can vouch that this tea is not from tea bags. You could taste the cardamom, not just a hint of it. And it went very, very well with  the soup.

Boranee Baunjan

Boranee Baunjan

Where things kicked up a notch, not as though the soup had gotten me off to a bad start, I had mantoo. There are actually two versions of the mantoo — appetizer and entrée. I settled for the appetizer size. My diet is still that of a pescatarian primarily, but I did recall the dish the first time I had gone to Kabul House, which was before I had modified my diet. The mantoo was a plate of steamed dumplings that were filled with spiced ground beef, shredded carrots, and onions then topped with a tomato meat sauce and yogurt mint sauce. These were four dumplings that painted my face with a permanent smile. For my second appetizer, I had boranee baunjan, which was baby eggplant baked with fresh tomatoes and garlic and then topped with a yogurt-mint sauce. I kept thinking of the Indian dish baigan bharta, but the boranee baunjan has so much more bloom to the taste. Where most restaurants would be a bit heavy on salt, this was not the case with Kabul House. Now, one thing to note is that the two appetizers seemed to be a bit oily, not greasy, though. Although I have a high degree of food snobbery, I have no chef talents to be able to see if the oil was indeed grease. It was light, almost like olive oil. But some people run rampant in frenzies whenever their dishes seem to “run.” I got no indigestion, so I am going to say that the appetizers were heavy with olive oil. Then again, the hot tea works wonders with digestion.

Complimentary Sauce

Complimentary Sauce

Murgh Chalau

Murgh Chalau

There was one entrée that I wanted to attempt, given the soup and two filling appetizers that I had already tackled. I had a murgh chalau that came with complimentary rice, a spicy lentil sauce, and more bread. Again, there was what appeared to be a slight heavy hand with olive oil as part of the base, but not to point of making the dish unappetizing. Of all chicken dishes I love, Indian murgh makhani is my favourite. Well, it was my favourite until I had a murgh chalau at Kabul House. Sautéed chicken cooked with garlic and onions in a tomato base left me decisive about how much it is now my all-time favourite chicken dish. And American diners who think that Indian restaurants should have fried chicken tenders on their menu are saying that  they know the best fried chicken shacks and barbecue chicken shanties that would make me change my mind — or make me become a staunch vegan. Nevertheless, I ate as much of the murgh chalau as I could and requested a to-go box because although I did not want the moment to end, I wanted to relish the flavours of the dish later. Getting the remainder of it for take-away meant I got to enjoy a mocha chocolate flourless cake. Sure there was baklava on the dessert menu. There was even honey cake, but my gums would still be throbbing from the sweetness. So I accepted the recommendation for the flourless cake and gobbled it up with the appreciation of a rabid prude. I can’t tell you how much I love chocolate and the mocha chocolate flourless cake will be one secret I keep from my high school sweetheart so that she does not use it against me.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Flourless Chocolate Cake

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Kabul House retained the authenticity in its food. Having recently gone to an Indian restaurant that had morphed into what looks like a Miami lounge and seemingly tempered its food for the American palates that frequent the area where the restaurant resides, I found a great deal of happiness in the spices, bursts of flavours, and genuine kick to the food at Kabul House. The location may have changed, but thank God the food did not. When I had mentioned that I had a few visits to the first location, the server seemed glad to know that Kabul House remained on my list of favourites such that I came back. He was outstanding with his recommendations and that was one of the things I remembered fondly at the old location. The prices are splendid even for a budget conscious person and unlike the ubiquitous bill of fare consisting of humus, couscous, and other Middle Eastern fare, there is the influence of flavours coming in from Pakistan, Turkey, and quite possibly from India that will have me rushing up to Skokie now and then for some of the best Afghani cuisine outside of the country. I shall be satisfied. You will too when you get your feet under a table at Kabul House.

Kabul House on Urbanspoon Kabul House on Foodio54

Midweek Escape to Italy

So, my cell phone rings while I am still at work and it is one of my great friends. There is the inquiry as to what I was doing after work, to which I answered that I was sitting at my desk — well past 5:00 PM — pondering what to eat. Food consumes — no pun intended — my free thoughts. What to eat? Where to eat? Do I drive there, walk, or take public transit to get the food source? Should it be quick or a dining experience where I can sit still and really enjoy my meal? My friend’s call snapped me out of my waffling at least such that I could think of a general location. There was a certain Italian restaurant where she and I had gone last summer. And talk about clarity, there was no case of introducing other options along with the Italian restaurant. It was off to 116 N. Oak Park Avenue in Oak Brook for a midweek escape to Il Vicolo.

Gnarly Head

Gnarly Head

The temperatures were moderate enough that we wondered if there would be seating available outside. Once we arrived and there was a bit more bite in the wind than before we left our respective job locations — she coming from Oak Brook Terrace and me coming from downtown Chicago — it dawned on us that temperatures are not consistently warm until the last week of June. Nevertheless, we had a window seat and imagined the warmth of the sun as we watched pedestrians’ pass by with clattering teeth.

Olive Oil, Parmesan Cheese, Pepper

Olive Oil, Parmesan Cheese, Pepper

Usually whenever my friend and I would catch up for dinner, we would never have wine or a “loaded” beverage during “school nights.” We reserve libations for weekends when we don’t have to worry about sleeping through the ringing of the morning alarm. However, I was in one of my “just bring it” moods and opted for some wine. In past posts I have mentioned that I have no wine snobbery. What I said to the server was that I’d relay what I like for possible dinner courses and she could surprise me with an accompanying wine accordingly. After my friend and I had given our requests, the server said that there would be a red wine that we both should try. And, so there was a bottle of Gnarly Head, a Pinot Noir, brought to the table. There was a quick pour, a swishing around in the glass, a tasting, and a nod of approval, and then the glasses were filled. Bravo.

Tortino Di Melanzane

Tortino Di Melanzane

With a basket of complimentary bread, fresh olive oil, parmesan cheese, and cracked black pepper, we enjoyed homemade Italian bread. One of the things about being serious with baking, I can tell when bread is fresh and when it has been purchased from a grocer or bakery. This bread came from the oven at Il Vicolo. That says something for authenticity and our devouring it was testament to our approval of not having perfectly prepared Sunbeam or Wonder bread put in front of us. For a salad, we started with a grilled calamari salad that left us not wanting fried calamari ever again. Don’t get me wrong, as there are some restaurants where the fried calamari has been the absolute best. However, tender grilled calamari and baby octopus in a very light lemon garlic and olive oil served over a mixed green salad were fantastic. Next time I return to Il Vicolo, I will inquire as to whether they use fresh vegetables because the salad had the kind of flavour that pops, much like what I have had any time I have gone to the country where pesticides and growth enhancers are not used on the crops.

Grilled Calamari and Salad

Grilled Calamari and Salad

The dining experience got into full swing with a tortino de melanzane. We all have had eggplant parmesan and have friends who swear that they, their mother, or their grandmother prepares the best eggplant parmesan ever. Whatever. You can have it. Give me tortino de melanzane. The baked eggplant was neither mushy nor crunchy. Goldilocks would even agree that it was just right. The mozzarella was not piled on so high that it introduced a choke factor. The tomato sauce was moderately chunky the way Ragu wished that jarred foolishness they sell was chunky. Again, full of flavour without the feel of salt on the tongue. And they included one of my all-time favourite highlights of cilantro. Now I was understanding fully why the Gnarly Head was the wine of choice per the server. The oak flavour was all the spice needed to complete the marriage with the meal. Listen to me sounding like a real food critic. Ha!

Penne Arrabbiata

Penne Arrabbiata

Italian cuisine may be known for a good mix of herbs and spices in the dishes, yet most dishes are not spicy. You don’t turn red in the cheeks after forking your meal into your mouth. Well, some people have mild constitutions and anything other than just salt has them screaming and putting on a show. I have been gaining weight slowly over the past few months, so I keep carbohydrates in my diet. Hence, I had pasta and this time I had a spicy penne arrabbiata. My first exposure to penne arrabbiata was with the purchase of a bag of it from Trader Joe’s. I was surprised that something frozen could taste so blooming delicious because food from the frozen section is saturated with ingredients that people use for trick words in spelling bees. Then after having penne arrabbiata at some Italian restaurants, it became a source of addiction. Well, the same can be said for the pasta dish at Il Vicolo. It was spicier than what I have had anywhere else, but that made it all the more appetizing to me because I love fire with my flavour. Each bite was bliss and rather than drowning the penne in the sauce, the sauce was more like an accent. Outstanding!

Nocciola

Nocciola

By now my camera was starting to do its own thing. Buttons were inoperable, which really made it horrible for me being able to set the focus point for my compositions. Even resetting the white balance to account for the sunlight gone down was impossible. Sure, I should have been in the moment rather than photographing my food. But how else can I present impressions of my dining experiences to make you want to dash out to the restaurant? It would have been so unfair for me to leave out such appetizing photos. Alas, I could only muster so much and I put the camera away and made a note to myself to trash it when I got home. I have three other digital cameras that work without giving me grief. The cheap one I used for these shots was disposable. My friend had ordered pappardelle gamberi e funghi. I don’t particularly like to have my friends wait for me to finish snapping away with my camera because ticking off close to a hundred shots per dish could mean having fork up lukewarm food. So, I missed capturing her dish of tasty homemade flat pasta with shrimp and mushrooms in a fresh tomato and basil sauce. This is one dish that I have yet to have all to myself and I must return to for that very purpose, per my friend’s recommendation.

Chocolate Lava Cake

Chocolate Lava Cake

We wrapped up with coffee and dessert. The coffee had a robust flavour, yet it required very little sweetener. And there were the desserts. Instead of the ubiquitous plate of tiramisu or cannoli, my friend had chocolate lava cake and I had nocciola. The chocolate lava cake, which had a preparation time of eight minutes, apparently was a big hit with my friend. Then again, the last time she had cake was earlier in April for her birthday, thankful that Easter had passed and sampling a dolce was not a frowned-upon option. I had it before and agreed with her expressions that indicated it was a worthy dessert. The nocciola was certainly real gelato. You can’t buy that flavour in the frozen dairy section of your local market. You just can’t.

On weekends, Il Vicolo has a tendency to fill up quickly. Once you have had any of their dishes or interacted with the wait staff, you understand why. The prices of the dishes are far from exorbitant. Of all the times going, I have not had a dining experience that resulted in me leaving dissatisfied. If anything, I always make plans for a return visit. If you go on the weekends and for the evening courses, make a reservation. Trust me when I say that you will not want to stand around watching plates boasting flavours and aromas that cause drooling. You will want to work your knife and fork on some morsel without delay. As for me, I do believe a midweek escape to Il Vicolo is in order for the near future.

Isn’t It Pleasant?

Pleasant House

A few months ago a great friend from Dallas sent a note to me via Facebook about a British public house in Chicago. As I only received a link to the website, I imagined that the restaurant had caught my friend’s attention after being featured in an article or on a show. Turns out that this particular eatery had been featured on a segment of Check Please! Well, well, well. The manager of any restaurant in the Chicago metropolitan area on the verge of a swift death should beg, plead, snivel, make promises, and put on performances to get on Check Please! for a revitalization of its business. But Pleasant House Bakery at 964 W. 31st Street is relatively new and a feature segment on Check Please! would no doubt make it skyrocket. Tucked in the middle of the Bridgeport neighbourhood, which is undergoing a change due to gentrification, this eatery/bakery does a fantastic job of leaving those of us with British grounding and British leanings missing that little old isle.

Steak and Ale PieA staple on the menu is the royal pie. In America, there are customary pot pies that can be large and hearty, with fillings much like stews. Royal pies are smaller and less filling. Therefore, you enjoy the pie without falling prey to food comatose thereafter. I started with a steak and ale pie, which is definitely a must-have on the isle and off the isle. Because my diet is primarily pecatarian, meat is not something I indulge every time the whim strikes a note with me. Steak and ale has steak in it, of course, and Pleasant House Bakery uses all-natural beef instead of meat riddled with additives, growth products, and other non-organic not-so-goods. Also added are slices of carrots in a gravy made of an ale that you can actually taste. No, to all the alcoholics and those who have recently turned twenty-one, you will not get drunk from the ale in the royal pie. I had spuds as an accompanying side order with a red wine gravy. And these spuds, or rather potatoes, were not made from powder. There was no from-the-box aftertaste to give them away.

Chicken Balti Royal PieI should have stopped at the steak and ale pie. No, I just had to have the chicken balti pie. I had to have more meat. I had to give in to the delectable taste and succumb to my addiction. The chicken balti pie was absolutely incredible, in all caps. Again, there is the pie with a flaky and rather flavourful crust, nothing like the Swanson’s frozen treats from the local market. Just like the steak and ale pie, the chicken balti pie’s crust was like that of a pastry. Think a more solid, yet fresh, croissant. All-natural chicken, not the danger chickens that have been enhanced for quick distribution, in fresh-ground curry spices with tomato and Nigella seeds completed the wonderful pie that I polished off with flourish. To add a hint of Indian dining to the mix, there was some coriander chutney that I had for dipping.  Wow. Again, I had spuds with the red wine gravy, and I also had English peas buttered with mint. There was a break in the clouds and a ray of light shined upon my table, illuminating the glass of ginger soda — oh how I love home-made ginger soda — that I drank in between heavy sighs of food bliss.

Trifle

Late last year, I had found out that I needed to be more careful with my sugar and carbohydrate intake. So, I had taken sugar out of my diet, full stop, not quite overzealous enough to eliminate bread in the same manner. Things are better now and I will indulge a sweet every once in a while, in moderation, of course. Because I have been good, I allowed myself a bowl of trifle. You simply do not have to be fancy with custard, apples, sponge cake, and whipped cream. However, a parfait of it goes over so well, so very well, so incredibly well. Fresh? Yes. Delicious? Yes. Would I have some more? Yes, it goes without saying. While some restaurants and even some bakeries could have too much sugar in the recipe, the sweetness of the apples — that were not doused in syrup, thank God — and the lightness of the sponge cake leave you with a dessert that does not have your doctor screaming, Alas! Along with the trifle, I took a cup of coffee with thick cream that resulted in me not needing any sugar. I was completely sated after I was done.

Ginger SodaUsually when restaurants try to include British cuisine on its menu, the attempt wows in the naming convention of certain menu items, but the output splashes. Pleasant House Bakery shines. I shall warn you that because the food is absolutely fantastic, the eatery fills up quickly. Get there early, be prepared for a wait because the establishment is small and quaint, or be okay with ordering something for take-away. Whoever started the restaurant apparently went to the United Kingdom and went to some eateries way out in the country where you indeed get some of the best royal pies there are to be had. It is also obvious in the minimalist atmosphere the restaurant exudes. I got a breeze of Cardiff, a whiff of Ipswich, a hint of New Castle on Tyne, the smiles of Peterborough. My visits to London, Bromley to be more specific, may not be all that frequent. But in the meantime, I will gladly make the dash over to Pleasant House Bakery for a taste of the old country.

Pleasant House Bakery on Urbanspoon

Gino on the Floor

Fogo de Chao

Thanksgiving, 2012, came and went. There was food for all feasts. Cornbread dressing with brown gravy or cranberry sauce. Collard greens. Candied yams. Macaroni and cheese. String bean casserole. Cornish hens because there will be turkey for Christmas. Sweet potato pies. Apple pie. Peach cobbler. Coconut pound cake. Almond scented white cake. There was, of course, a bit of weight gain after so much delighting. But it was not because of Thanksgiving gluttony. No, I had made a pact with my high school sweetheart that for every pound she took off, I would add a pound. Being such a diligent and honest man by holding up my end of the pony, the joints in my legs are now feeling the girth of 211 pounds. As if that was not enough, I returned from enjoying Thanksgiving with family with a calendar appointment for Fogo de Chão. And everyone’s eyes open wide with surprise.

Salad Bar Options

When I started Chicago Alphabet Soup many years ago, Fogo de Chão at 661 North La Salle Street was the second restaurant I went to. That was when I had a cheap point-and-click camera and before I started using my expensive digital camera properly. It was all about the food. Having then returned from São Paulo, Brazil, I wanted to see if the churrascaria in Chicago would make me miss the megalopolis. I remember the temperatures having a bit more bite than I had been accustomed to below the equator. So it was off to the best churrascaria in Chicago for their dandy bonanza of meat, meat, rare meat, medium rare meat, well-done meat, and then some more meat. Fast forward to 2012 and I have jumped willingly into the diet of a pescatarian. Why did I agree to meet up with friends at Fogo de Chão, of all places? Could it be that my high school sweetheart had told me that she had lost a few pounds and I needed to fulfill my end of the pact? Hmm. I will let that be my excuse.

Caipirinha

Much like the temperatures were during the first visit to Fogo de Chão, I wanted something to put me in the mind of being in São Paulo years ago. A glass of ciapirinha certainly would make that happen. Think of a mojito without the mint. I was quite happy, although I was aware of the sweater I had on, which meant I was aware of being in Chicago instead of in Brazil. Being a lightweight, I needed something to keep the alcohol from having me floating about the restaurant in my own little ether world. It was off to the salad bar. Asparagus. Mushrooms. Cheeses. Bread. Olives. Tuna salad. Chicken salad. Salmon. Smiles. You are told to get a small plate of fruit and vegetables, not to fill up on the salad bar because the gauchos will keep your table occupied with various cuts of meats, rolls that melt on your tongue like cotton candy, mashed potatoes, and baked bananas. This could easily become any glutton’s nirvana.

Spiced Beef, Parmesan Crusted Pork

Then it was time to turn over the card for “sem,” yes, yes, Yes!!! The gauchos hovered through room with slabs of meat on skewers, of which you end up in a daze wanting everything that they bring. If I were a devout pescatarian, I would have stayed away. However, I have no willpower. That was rather evident when there was the mouth-watering aroma from lombo, which is parmesan crusted pork. There was also the essence of some beef ancho wafting up my nose. Imagine if you will Oliver saying, “Please, sir, I want some more.” This wonder meat had me wanting to launch into song, singing, “Food, glorious food, hot mustard and sausage.” Moist. Succulent. Tender. I am sure I could come up with about two dozen more adjectives to describe the flavours, six dozen if I were to describe the taste in several other languages.

Nice to Meat You

The picanha, the best part of the sirloin and flavoured with garlic, was worthy. I could have told the gaucho to leave a quarter of the slab at the table. Then others in the restaurant would have been screaming for my head on skewer, perhaps. This choice meat was just as tender as the previous selection. There appeared to be something of a glaze to it, as there was a slight sweetness to each bite. Imagine that. Other than at Argentinean steak houses, I have never had meat like this in it natural juices without the addition of sugar to the recipes. Fogo de Chão is the first restaurant to have succeeded in making the meat sing. And I have been to all the popular churrascarias in America, Chicago boasting the majority of them.

Meat

By the time a slice of fraldinha had made it to the table, the pescatarian angel and the vegetarian angel that were sitting on my shoulders had smacked their foreheads and declared defeat of saving my belly from the evils of meat. When I was a heavy carnivore, I wanted my meats to be well done. Well, I chose to have a medium well cut of the fraldinha. Needless to say, I enjoyed it. This is more popular in Southern Brazil, and I remember stuffing myself senselessly with some of it after a capoeira ceremony in Bahia. Yes, it was better that I had partaken of this after hand stands, backward flips, cartwheels, and round-houses. I would have split my pants or landed with a thump otherwise. But at Fogo de Chão I simply had to fan myself to stave off the sweat from working so hard on the constant cuts of meat, mashed potatoes, rolls, and baked bananas.

Meat

In keeping with dining on beef primarily, I requested a cut of the alcatra. It was at this point that the previously mentioned angels were sparring behind my back. This is my favourite. I have been to all the other churrascarias in the city — Texas de Brazil, Sal y Carvão, and Brazzaz — and whatever attempts they have made at alcatra seemed to fall into the okay category. There is no want for a cigarette afterwards. There’s no silence, which is an indication that the food is working magic on you. There is no Wow! Much like me wanting the picanha all to myself, the alcatra invokes that same sensation.

Meat

Rounding out my choices of meats was a cut of filet mignon. Growing up, filet mignon was always presented as bacon wrapped around ground beef. Who thought that was a brilliant idea? For my Brazilian dining experience, I opted for a medium rare cut. Now, usually when I have ever asked for any meat to be medium rare, the cow was still protesting. My appetite would have a quick pace running far from the restaurant. At Fogo de Chão the medium well cut of filet mignon was a tender piece of juicy meat that did not squirt or squirm. I worked my knife and fork on it like those actors in commercials who smile for the camera. But more than smiling, I actually ate the meat and I had no remorse, even for my pescatarian sensibilities.

Flan

After about two hours of flipping the coaster back and forth over to alert the gauchos to bring meat and to stop bringing meat, it was time to stop the meat odyssey and polish the palate with some dessert. I have mentioned in past posts that I could put any cornfed Iowa Bart or Indiana Billy Joe Bob to shame at the dinner table and desert number one of three was a case study of that. The flan was creamy like the flans I loved from Santo Domingo. As much as I love flan, my blood pressure cannot say the same. But I am not a “yes” man to constantly working my teeth on the delectable dessert every time the option presents itself. Pause. Okay, it’s most of the time that I concede to my want and gnash away on flan without complaint.

Pastel de Tres Leches

However, I shall not forget about the tres leches cake. Having had a slice of it from a restaurant a few months ago where I swear they poured a whole carton of milk on the cake, turned the carton upside down, and then hit the carton from the bottom to get the last drops out of it, the pastel de tres leches at Fogo de Chão had a texture not of drowned cake. Enjoyed with some cafezinho, coffee, I can say with certainty that everything was okay in the land. To be honest, let me stop pulling your leg and just say that I was drunk from too much eating. Not one for turning into a jester, had I been at home, I would have danced, sang, and put on a performance. Food, glorious food.

Chocolate Molten Cake, Ice Cream

The award for most gluttonous eater of 2012 goes to, none other than, Gino Williams. The chocolate molten cake with a dollop of vanilla ice cream under a drizzle of chocolate was the coup de grace. Here is where we had Gino on the floor. There is a restaurant in downtown Chicago called Grand Lux Cafe that has the best molten chocolate cake in the whole world. The cake at Fogo de Chão runs a very close second. I had been sitting for three hours filling my jaws and the act of standing was not an option. Having to move about was impossible. It was bad enough that I had to force myself to lean over so I could retrieve my wallet to pay the tab. But standing up and realizing that I was bent over like a geriatric was all anyone needed to see to know that I had shed my British polishing for being a thoroughly satisfied food brute.

My running joke is that Fogo de Chão is indeed a lazy buffet, as all you have to do is sit while the gauchos tempt you with all the various choices of meats. There are the side dishes, but the whole churrascaria experience is worth the trip. You may find other churrascarias in the city, but the one that you may find yourself frequenting is Fogo de Chão, hands down. One thing to note is that the price may grow a few grey hairs in your head, in your beard if you’re bald. Go for lunch instead, when the prices are not as cha-ching as the dinner prices. But make sure it is during a half day at work because eating too much will result in a dire need to go to sleep afterwards. Another thing is that it would be a crime to go to the restaurant if you are not one for eating meat. The salad bar panders to the vegetarian and pescatarian palates wonderfully. Still, the constant view of meat would tempt even a staunch vegan. As for me, I think I gained enough weight to keep my word to my high school sweetheart. But that was not enough. She called and told me that she lost a few more pounds. Looks like I will be getting up to 220 pounds by the beginning of the New Year. My resolution will be to stop making pacts, but it won’t be to stop eating like a bottomless culinary fanatic.

Fogo de Chão on Urbanspoon

¡Que Rico! ¡Que Bueno!

Que Rico

Chips and Salsa

What do you do on a sunny Saturday afternoon when the sky is blue, the few clouds that are fluttering about are wispy feathers that look dreamy, and the leaves on the trees remind you of pumpkin pie and crayons the colours of red, yellow, brown, and orange? You rake leaves? You jump in the leaves? You walk hand-in-hand with your lover down the lane? You sit about and be thankful that the temperatures are still in the mid 60′s? Well, if you are me, you are probably out and about hunting for some food. I had made a bet with my international traveling wife during our last international jaunt. I had agreed that for every pound she takes off, I will add a pound. Last report, she had taken off a few pounds, which meant that my current bout of weight gain that has me struggling to get into some of my pants needs to step up. So, when I found myself in front of a certain Mexican restaurant that had the earth tones of the autumn colours, imagine my surprise when I had found an option for adding a pound or two for this particular day.

On the corner of Oakley and Roscoe at 2301 West Roscoe Street is ¡Que Rico! Talk about getting the whole decor of a Mexican establishment right. And with Halloween approaching, there was the whole setup of ghosts, ghouls, witches, skeletons, and pumpkins placed strategically throughout the restaurant. Upon entry, and it was during the middle of the afternoon, I was rather shocked to see that the place was empty. Many restaurants seem to open at 4:00 or 5:00 PM on Saturdays, so I had initially thought they were airing out the place in preparation for the evening seating. But, no, there just were no patrons yet and perhaps most were on the east end of the Roscoe Avenue stretch that attracts a lot of pedestrian traffic. The server had stated that they were indeed open for business and gave me my pick of tables. I chose a window seat.

Sopa de Tortillas

To the table came chips and salsa. The chips were not the neat, flat tortilla corn chips that you get in Frito Lay’s bags. Many were folded, some had been contorted, and all of them were warm. You can’t pour a bag of chips into a bowl, warm them up, and not expect some weird texture after they start cooling off. The chips remained crispy from the time they reached the table until I had finished all but crumbs. The salsa had raised some suspicion at first. I was thinking salsa from the jar and then the peppers slowly started creeping about on my tongue. I have had the “spicy” brand of salsa from the jar and it was still mild, so the complimentary salsa I had this day was either doctored or homemade. I would like to think the latter was the case because there was the authentic flavour that I could taste, much like the homemade salsa I have had at several of my friends’ homes.

I started with a sopa de tortilla. I have never ordered sopa de tortilla — tortilla soup — before and was pleasantly surprised that chicken broth with a tomato base, caramelized onions, chihuahua cheese, peppers, and corn tortillas could be so blooming delicious. We’re talking a fiesta. By the time I had gotten down to the last few slurps, I had dubbed the soup as my autumn Latin soup. It could be the colours of autumn that gave me the hint. Then again, it could have been the mildly spicy flavours that would be perfect for preventing a cold or keeping the body heated during the chillier times of fall and winter that will keep me hankering for cups and bowls of this delight.

Camarones al Ajo

One Latin American dish that has never failed is camarones al ajo. This plate of plump shrimp in a tomato-based sauce over melted cheese with Spanish rice, refried beans, and salad left me smiling and bumbling. The one time I probably could have gotten away babbling twaddle in English and I was instead giving commentary rather fluently in Spanish. Oh how the waiter got a laugh out of that before he was a bit inquisitive as to how my Spanish had such polish. It’s like those people who had surgeries and then awakened with accents so very different from what they had before going under anesthesia. While I am moderately conversational with Spanish, I apparently had not only correctness with words but also an accent. Food is not supposed to do that to me. I am finding it increasingly hard to fight, though.

Now, only an hour had passed and I was a bit full from having engaged the soup and the entrée with a pause of fifteen minutes after each. It was time for a postre. No flan para mi. Favor, no churros. Instead, I had pastel de piña. To have ordered that without first thinking about how I would say pineapple cake in Spanish first was an indication of how fast I tend to switch into languages. The pastel de piña came with a light caramel sauce, baked pineapples, and a fist size scoop of vanilla ice cream over a slice of yellow cake. Along with the cake, I had a cup of Colombian coffee. Gracias, Juan Valdez. It probably would have been nice to have had some Mexican hot chocolate to stay with the whole Mexican theme. Sigh. Sometimes there are modifications made and the ideal gets smashed. And if the food is really great at the restaurant, you eat enough that you are smashed also, such was the case with me.

Pastel del Piña

For a restaurant that has all the trimming of ambience, great service, and pretty good food, it is very bizarre to note how empty the place is. It very well may be the timing of day, as big box restaurants have a tendency to fill up later in the afternoon and early evening hours. It may also be that most of the restaurants that cater to pedestrian movement are a few blocks east of where ¡Que Rico! is. Several reviews I have read hint at the price being more than what is expected for the output and having a disposable income puts me at a disadvantage for moaning about cost. ¡Que Rico! is neither a corner taqueria nor is it Charlie Trotter’s. You have to experience the restaurant for what it is worth. I walked, or rather waddled, away a stuffed man and still had enough cash to get cheese on my Burger King whopper afterwards. Wait! I don’t each burgers. Scratch that last thought.

Que rico. Que bueno. ¡Bomba!