One thing I like about Latinicity is the variety, albeit found in only a few vendors. I must admit that I thought there were more restaurants before. Of course, that was over five years ago. I recall there being restaurants to the right of the entrance as well as the current restaurants to the left of the entrance. Nevertheless, next time I am downtown, I will make plans to stop I again to try some other offerings. Continue reading
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Since I have started taking blogging a little more serious, I got an Instagram account a little over a year ago and devoted all of my photos to food rather than stream of consciousness shots. In doing that, I have been following several restaurants in the metropolitan Chicago area. One that resulted in an addiction from simply looking at the photos was Via Lima in North Centre at 4024 N. Lincoln Avenue. The photos were of Peruvian food, but fancy. Well, it was necessary to feed the addiction.
Arriving in the early evening after work, I had a pick of seats without feeling crowded. Via Lima is a spacious restaurant, but after you start indulging the food, ambiance will be the absolute last thing on your mind. No extensive menu, I saw quite a bit that I wanted. Instead, I opted for a variety of appetizers, saving the entrées for a return visit. My server offered recommendations and I enjoyed complimentary plantain chips with amarillo sauce while I waited.
The first appetizer was a plate of tequeños. Two of the fried wontons were stuffed with chicken and seasonal vegetables. The other two were stuffed with seafood and seasonal vegetables. Served with amarillo sauce and a creamy guacamole, I could have had several orders of these tasties without complaint. These appetizers hint at the Chinese influence in Peruvian cuisine and I admit that it works extremely well in the recipe. With a cocktail of pisco sour habanero, all was quite okay in the land. For those who try this cocktail, it is worthy, but remember that the habanero is not to be taken like it’s candy.
The second appetizer was a plate of causitas, which were potato cakes doctored with your choice of meat. One I had with chicken, avocado, tomatoes, black olive, and boiled egg. The other was with shrimp and the toppings. The spicy sauces that came with the appetizer, one amarillo and a rocoto sauce, were perfect accompaniments. Per the preparation and presentation of causitas, one will see French influence. I think this was one of the fancy photos I saw on Instagram. It could have come to the table looking a complete mess and the flavour still would have been a winner.
The third appetizer was a trio of ceviche. Thinking that I had already eaten the best appetizer on the menu, I was totally confused as to which appetizer I enjoyed the most when the ceviche came. More confusing was trying to decide which ceviche in the trio I liked the most. There were a classic ceviche, one with ají amarillo, and one with rocoto — mild to spicy. One thing that I really liked about the ceviche was that they used choclo in the recipe. Anyone who has had this Peruvian corn will attest to authenticity of the dish. Also, one thing to note is the Japanese influence in this dish. And with this appetizer, I had a regular pisco sour. It was as refreshing as the one I had with the habanero.
Per my server’s recommendation, I had a lucuma mousse. I have had lucuma ice cream at another restaurant in Chicago and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Having it in a mousse was a highlight. Not only was the dessert light, given all the food and drink I had prior to indulging it, but the natural sweetness of it was all that was needed. Accented with a bit of chocolate syrup and topped with whipped cream and a butterscotch cookie, the only thing I needed was a cup of coffee. I’m weaning myself from coffee, so the dulce of lucuma mousse was perfect.
I cannot speak to how service is when the restaurant is filled almost to capacity. What I can say is that I had a server who did a superb job of offering recommendations that hit the spot. When you open a menu and see so many offerings such that you’re indecisive, a server who can nail some menu items that leave you wanting to return in the very near future is a plus. As to the food, if Instagram ever adds a scratch-and-sniff feature, Via Lima will break Instagram with people scratching and sniffing their photos. Via Lima, straight to your belly.
Several weeks ago, I was on a hunt for boutique restaurants that sell some of the best lobster rolls that you can find in and around Chicago. Since then, I have seen Instagram photos and Facebook posts showcasing lobster rolls. I have also received email notes inquiring if I would like to sample lobster rolls from various restaurants. I had no idea that these lovely little seafood sandwiches were so popular. Needless to say, I found another seafood restaurant that doubles as a seafood market named The Fish Guy Market at 4423 N. Elston Street in Chicago’s Albany Park.
I started with a nice cool bowl of Andaluzian gazpacho. This soup of puréed tomatoes, a dash of vinegar, olive oil, and garlic was well received by my outrageous appetite. With it being warm and humid outside, having something cool was not a bad option. Considering most enjoy their soups at temperatures that require blowing on it to cool it off before sipping, the gazpacho makes for a great summer soup.
Next was a lobster ceviche. Anyone who has had ceviche has had it with shrimp and they already know that it is an appetizing start to most Central and South American meals. Well, imagine plump lobster added and the usual bloom of flavours from the citrus spices. Served with crunchy tortilla chips, this ceviche is one menu item to order and devour during any visits to The Fish Guy Market.
While talking to the guy behind the counter about cameras and how long The Fish Guy Market has been in business, I had not noticed that he was chopping up some baby octopus and doctoring it up in olive oil with a few extra ingredients and spices. It wasn’t until he placed it in front of me that I realized I was getting a sampling of some fruit de mer. Even without having been grilled, the octopus was tender, and not tough. The olive oil gave it an Italian influence, but that was just fine. I gobbled it regardless.
By now I was ready to address my main reason for going to The Fish Guy Market. One of the individuals behind the counter was preparing my lobster roll and instead of it being done out of view in some kitchen or out of sight, I got to see the magic from my seat. There was a hearty amount of lobster added to the rolls, seasoned, and ready for my teeth. Served with potato chips and slaw, the plating was certainly appealing to the appetite. Unlike most lobster rolls that have some doctored mayonnaise, there didn’t seem to be any on the lobster roll at The Fish Guy. Instead, the natural juices of the lobster and the seasoning appeared to be what made the roll. Then again, there may have been some mayonnaise on the sandwich, but very faint. I took my time and completed the task before me.
Another small l’amuse that I got to sample was skipjack tuna. Lightly seared on the outside, this was a meaty interlude that made me love tuna even more than I loved it already. I scanned the menu to see if it was one of the items that the restaurant serves and didn’t see it. I must admit that it would be a divine menu item to add because anyone who gets to have a go of it will want more and more of it.
The restaurant offerings are outstanding. The fresh seafood selection certainly was an attention grabber. With the restaurant and market area being bright and incredibly clean, I will definitely return to The Fish Guy Market to purchase any seafood that I plan to cook. Being a stickler for good customer service, it’s apparent that the market aces that aspect of business because there was a steady flow of repeat customers coming in and out. I understand fully why they return. They have a seefood diet, no doubt. Yes, I wrote seefood.
Many years ago, I got my first exposure to Indian cuisine when two co-workers and I started what became our bi-weekly Mod Squad dinners. One of the Mod Squad members — affectionally called Julie — was vegetarian, so she offered up a certain Indian restaurant that was central to the other member, Pete, and me, who was dubbed Linc with dreadlocks. Samosas. Papadam wafers. Tamarind chutney. Pickled peppers. Cilantro chutney. Paneer makhani. Saag paneer. Aloo. Chana masala. Bhatura. Sambar. Idli. The spices and flavours were so full that I had not noticed the absence of meat. From that evening, Indian food became my favourite ethnic cuisine. And having travelled to India for two weddings, having Indian food prepared truly authentically made it a definite staple in my diet. Per my high school sweetheart, who said that I smell of curry, it is quite evident that, yes, I am in love with Indian dining.
While in downtown Chicago and reminiscing about my past Mod Squad dinners, I passed by Bombay Spice Grill & Wine at 450 N. Clark Street. Not quite in the tourist trap section of Near North Side, as that would require going over to N. LaSalle Street, Bombay Spice sits not far from several other swanky boutique restaurants. Lucky for me, I wandered by the restaurant a few minutes past it opening its doors for the lunch crowd. I was able to get a seat near the window, not so pedestrians could see my happiness as I ate, but so that I had natural light for my photos. With full bar immediately to the left when you enter, an open grill towards the back, and plenty of seats for the Hungry Jack and Starving Jill, Bombay Spice looks like a hot spot for the Friday evening after-work crowd. After a quick scan of the menu, it became apparent that there was a bit of fusion that gets introduced into the recipes. Bombay Spice is not India House, Udupi Palace, Mysoor, Usmania, or Taj Mahal. And I should have known that from the location, there would be some American aspect introduced so as not to offend a common palate. But that was okay. I can adjust when it comes to food. I decided that I would have my version of a degustation instead of ordering the formulaic appetizer, entrée, and dessert with something to drink. It was a lovely day, I had plenty of time, and I had an appetite, the former not being a surprise.
To start, I had a bowl of lentil soup. After the first slurp, I thought of my favourite Brazilian restaurant in Oak Park, Illinois, and the lentil soup that they serve. That Brazilian restaurant prepares the best lentil soup that you will probably find between the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean. The soup that I had a Bombay Spice comes in a close second. The caveat was that the salt seemed to have been mildly heavy-handed — as if something can be mild and heavy at the same time. As I may have mentioned in some past posts, my diet entertains low or no salt, so it becomes rather noticeable in a dish as soon as it touches the tongue. I had orange juice along with the soup, so I was able to dilute the taste of salt some. However, I will admit that the soup still held its own in terms of flavour and I nodded in appreciation of it being satisfying.
For the second course of my degustation, I had samosas with a tamarind chutney. The samosas at Bombay Spice are baked, which lends credence to the healthy aspect that the restaurant adds to its food. Unlike samosas that have been deep-fried, there was no flakiness to the crust. They were still stuffed with potatoes, peas, curry, and cumin, all which added a full blossom to the burst of flavour. Cutting through the crust required a tad bit of effort because where flaky crusts practically obey and fall apart, cutting a baked crust with a butter knife could result in part of the samosa scooting off the plate with a quickness. The tamarind chutney brought back to mind the chutney that I remembered from the Indian restaurant of my Mod Squad days, the sweetness without being saccharine, tamarind that you could actually taste without a syrup overload. After I finished performing my surgery cuts on the samosas so that they didn’t fly about the plate and table, I poured the tamarind chutney over the samosas and commenced to eating them to completion.
Where things really glowed was with the third course of my degustation. I had chickpea ceviche, which I found to be a unique twist on ceviche. In many, if not all, Latin American restaurants, ceviche is on the menu. After you have some the first time, there is almost a guarantee that you will want some every time you go to a Latin American eatery. The chickpea ceviche at Bombay Spice is nothing but a plate of love that deserves an encore in perpetuity. Chickpeas. Tomatoes. Onions. Tamarind. Mint. Yogurt. Me smiling and dancing — very, very small moves so not to be “that” evident. The papadam wafers that came with it completed the dish and I will say that this was the first time I have had ceviche so delightfully delectable that I could have stood in the middle of the restaurant and danced with jazz hands without compunction or care. I have been through markets and down side streets in India, feasting on street food and loving a favourite street dish called chaat — served by merchants with dirty hands — and I have downed it without complaint or bellyache. All while I was polishing off the ceviche I kept thinking that this was Bombay Spice’s version of chaat. Ceviche. Chaat. Someting thrown together on a dish. I could eat it endlessly.
With the ceviche, I had Bombay Spice punch. And oh did it pack a punch. We are talking Absolut vodka, hibiscus tea, Hum liquor, and agave nectar, shaken and then poured over freshly diced pineapple, mango, orange, and ginger ale. As if that is not enough, it is then topped off with red wine, and then garnished with orange and fresh basil leaf. My complements to the bartender because he was able to hide the alcohol rather well. It was a good thing that it was not summer and I was not thirsty like someone who had been crawling through a desert without any water. I was rather fine sitting, but when I stood after the meal, that was when I was then aware of how sleep-inducing the punch was. It was a wise idea for me to have started off with food prior to having the punch come to the table. I would have otherwise sang, babbled, drooled, and been on some video that would have become an embarassing viral sensation on the Internet.
The final dish in my personal degustation was chicken tikka. Having forgotten to order a side of rice with it, I had a plate of chicken in tandoori spices, roasted peppers, and onions. This dish indeed had a grill preparation to it, as chicken tikka comes in a gravy. The chicken tikka at Bombay Spice came with a cilantro raita that I think would have been perfect if the chicken dish had been incredibly spicy. There would then have been a balance to keep the tongue from feeling as though a burning ember had been placed upon it. After a few dips of the chicken morsels in the raita, I then opted to finish the dish as-is. I also was considering ordering some of the chickpea ceviche for take-away.
Bombay Spice Grill & Wine is one of those restaurants that I think would be a good introduction to someone who wants to ease into Indian dining, but still has a soft palate. The food is definitely tempered for the American palate and, as they say, when in Rome. During the lunch hour, the bartender doubled as a server and there was one other server. It may have been the timing when I went that the restaurant was not teeming with customers the way you see some restaurants after five o’clock and throughout the weekend. The servers were not inundated and the dining patrons were able to enjoy their meals without feeling neglected. As for prices, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to say what is too much, what is too little, and what is just about right. There is no Goldilocks assessment that I can apply. The bill was not more than I expected, but I will agree that I paid for what I got and that did not mean emptying my wallet. Before I left, I asked myself what I would have done during my Mod Squad days. The answer was to order the ceviche for take-away. That is exactly what I did. And then I went home and watched an old episode of the Mod Squad.