Rapidito Colombian Gourmet Bites

Rapidito

After a recent excursion to a rather fantastic Spanish restaurant in Chicago’s Lakeview, my restaurant advisor and I noted a Colombian restaurant on the landscape east of where we had experienced a wow factor in coastal Spain dining. What was once a dessert cafe is now Rapidito, at 1855 W. Diversey Parkway, dishing up  authenticity and not as an attempt.

Arepa Blanca

Arepa Blanca

Taking advantage of an early lunch during the weekend, I opted for my first trip to be for a sampling of a few items. Not like many of the Colombian steakhouses dotted throughout the Chicago landscape, Rapidito places emphasis on street food. There were traditional items like pinchos and arepa, the latter being an influence from Venezuala, along with empanadas, and surprisingly Colombian style hot dogs on the menu.

To kick my appetite into gear, I started with an arepa blanca. Topped with cheese, this Venezuelan influence hit the spot. Slightly buttery, it was nice to be able to taste the cheese on the arepa, which reminded me of chihuahua cheese.

Arepa de Choclo

Arepa de Choclo

Having enjoyed the arepa blanca, I also tried the arepa de choclo, which was also topped with cheese. This was an item that I will return and buy in bulk. The sweet corn in the arepa recipe provided a natural sweetness that would make this a favourite for morning breakfast, an afternoon snack, and a side with dinner.

The two final street food items I had were choripapas and a plate of steak and chicken pinchos. The chorizo bites, chopped eggs, and creole potatoes with housemade creamy sauce were first-rate. And the steak and chicken pinchos served with a tomatillo sauce and small Andean baked potatoes on the ends of the skewers also get high marks for the meat being juicy and flavourful without being overly seasoned.

Pinchos: Steak and Chicken

Pinchos: Steak and Chicken

Although not in an area with a lot of foot traffic, there were numerous patrons coming and going. When there is authenticity in food, there usually is a constant lure to an establishment and Rapidito certainly draws an ongoing flow of individuals whose palates enjoy good Colombian eats. As this was my first visit, I can say definitively that I will return for a tasting  of several other menu items and certainly for a batch of arepas de choclo.

Rapidito Colombian Gourmet Bites Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Las Tablas, All About Colombia

Las Tablas

If someone were to employ me as a bona fide food critic, I would be at least 285 pounds. Either that or I would be more of an exercise fanatic than I am now. After my recent strength and endurance training at the gym, I was not as sore as I had been after each session during my first week. Also what I have noticed is that my appetite has spiked, which is okay since my goal is to gain weight — well, muscle mass. Recalling a Colombian restaurant that I had gone to with a great friend years ago in the early days of Chicago Alphabet Soup, I opted to sample from the Portage Park location.

At 4920 W. Irving Park Road is Las Tablas Colombian Steakhouse. Large, spacious, airy, and with plenty of seats, I arrived early, thinking I would get ahead of the crowd. Because I had been snacking all morning and throughout a bit of the afternoon, I had planned not to order as if I had companions dining with me. So, I ordered a reasonable meal and went through my ritual of getting my camera ready for capturing the photos for the blog. No sooner had I finished then I looked up and saw several patrons coming to sit at tables next to me. Of course I got the stares as if I were a hydra once I began my photography.

Las Tablas Collage

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

Now, in addition to my appetite being wild, I drink water and natural juices constantly. One juice that had stayed in my mind when I had gone to the Lincoln Park location was a jugo naranjilla — lulo juice. It brings to mind pineapple and Jamaican june plum juice. It was good for the starter of empanadas that I ordered. There were empanada con queso and empanada con pollo. There must have been a change in the recipe because the empanadas were deep-fried instead of baked, the way they were years ago during my visit. That was no problem, since I had fallen in love with deep-fried empanadas after going to Costa Rican and Venezuelan restaurants.

The entrée was a Utopian platter, for me. It was spiced shrimp served with half of a potato, yucca, and plantain. Some would probably look at the platter and sneer, thinking there was not much to it. I simply commenced to working my knife and fork on the plump shrimp and seasoned sides. And because there were about ten fat shrimp on the platter, I had absolutely nothing to complain about — nothing at all. With the remaining jugo naranjulla, this was a lunch that I would never tire of having.

Surprisingly, I have been disciplined such that I have not indulged a sweet after every meal. Such was the case after lunch at Las Tablas. I had thought about perhaps a cup of coffee afterwards, but I am working myself out of taking coffee after my meals. Slowly, I am reverting to taking tea after my meals. I am certain at a cup of coffee thanks to Juan Valdez would have been a highlight after my culinary session at Las Tablas, but I was good, nonetheless, and did not have a dessert.

Having arrived at what seems like the beginning of an extreme busy time, the one server who was working the floor alone really looked like he was about to get on his knees and crawl. Recognizing how trying it must be when suddenly overloaded, I was cognizant of my ordering and requests in advance so that I was not like several of the others who stopped the man every time he passed their tables. The prices are extremely reasonable for a steakhouse and I will co-sign on the fact that the quality of the output from the kitchen is top-notch. I have a feeling that the closer evening approaches, it may be advisable to make reservations. Once you sample the food, it becomes evident as to why you’ll need reservations because the last thing you’ll want is to watch platters of aromatic dishes passing within your visual range without the servers stopping and placing the dishes immediately within your reach.

Las Tablas on Urbanspoon

Las Tablas, Lakeview Colombian

Las Tablas If someone were to employ me as a bona fide food critic, I would be at least 350 pounds and confined to a mobile chair. Either that or I would be more of a masochistic exercise freak than I am now. This thought became quite apparent during this last excursion to a restaurant on a quest for sampling only ethnic cuisine. This time, my main ethnic-restaurant-sampling friend and I pleased the palates with some Colombian food. As much bad press as Colombians get for smuggling drugs into the States, someone — we shall say Oprah, for example — should pre-empt such smear campaigns with a plug for Colombian delicacies. Promote positive aspects of Colombia like the food and I guarantee you Colombian drug sales would shrink. Imagine Colombians smuggling tasty food into the United States. Hell, I would meet them at the airport.

Well, let us get to the real reason for the journal. My food companion and I went to Las Tablas Steak House at 2965 N. Lincoln Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. We were going to go to a Dominican restaurant, but a Dominican friend said we would have to fly down to Dominican Republic or to New York City for authentic Dominican goodies. [At this moment, I am thinking about a Dominican breakfast consisting of huelvos revueltos con queso y jamon y platanos triturados.]

My friend and I were quite adventurous this time, but not any more daring than usual. I started with a jugo naranjilla — a lulo juice. For those of us who are Jamaican or have been to Jamaica, think June plum. For those who are not Jamaican or who have not been to Jamaica, well, just think of a juice so good that you would risk trying to import the fruit into the States so that you could make your own jugo naranjilla. A lulo is a Colombian fruit, something like a plum that has a pineapple and mango taste to it. Perhaps not, but that is as close as I can get to describing it without wanting to run to O’Hare International Airport, purchasing a ticket, and flying to Columbia for all the lulo juice I can drink. Then again, I can just go back to Las Tablas. Anyway, for appetizers, we had empanadas and aborrajado. The empanadas were corn puff fillets with a mixture of ground meat, potato, rice, and egg. The aborrajado was a perfectly huge, ripe, sweet plantain with guava and melted cheese. For the entrées, we went overboard. I specifically ordered the hostess with a mélange of plantains and salsa served over a bed of rice, after which she came to the table and promptly slapped me — just kidding. Seriously, we feasted on pollo al ajillo, sobrebarriga en salsa criolla, and tradiciones colombianas. Yes, I know that sounds like a lot and my friends and family keep asking me how I can eat as much as I do and still keep the physique of a twenty-year-old fashion model. Just to give you an idea of what each entrée had on it, below is a detail explanation in English and in Spanish.

  • Pollo al ajillo
    Deliciosa pechuga de pollo asada al carbon en salsa de ajo. Servido con arroz, frijoles, papa y platano frito.
    Deliciously unique, a plump chicken breast marinated in a freshly ground herbs and spices, grilled to perfection over an open flame plus a touch of garlic sauce served with rice, beans, fried plantain, and potato.
  • Sobrebarriga en salsa criolla
    Sobrebarriga, papa y yucca en una deliciosa salsa criolla, con platano maduro y arroz
    . Sautéed flank steak, potato and yucca simmered in a delicious criolla sauce (onions and tomatoes), and served with sweet plantain and rice.
  • Tradiciones colombianas
    Frijoles, arroz, platano, yucca frita, ensalada, aguacate y papa
    . Beans with rice, plantain, fried yucca, salad, guacamole, and potato.

Now, we could not have all this good food go down the gullet without some assistance with a little wine. What better way to top off such good food than with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Okay, I never do this, but I am going to give a plug for the wine because it was so bloody good. My friend had gone to a wine tasting event in November of last year and had bought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Justin Vineyard in California. I am a bit of a purist, opting mostly for wines from Australia, South Africa, Italy, and France, but I am starting to view California wines more favourably after partaking of the bottle from Justin Vineyard and a few other wines that some knowledgeable individuals have brought to dinner parties. [For those who think you are wine connoisseurs, remember that a good wine comes from an actual vineyard. I am yodeling this from the Swiss Alps. If it says table wine or it does not have a vineyard on the label, put it back on the shelf; it is just a step up from grape juice. Oh, and Zinfandel is so early nineties.]

Las TablasTo cap off the evening, we indulged in the usual Latin American after-dinner postres — a flan. This flan was a coconut flan that was so good that I wanted to take off running — for no particular reason other than just to run. That is a problem because food should not make you want to dash out into the middle of the street and do jazz hands, pirouettes, and mariachi steps. Then again, you are inclined to jump for joy when you are in love and I do love to eat. “Food is my lover,” says my stomach, with a Colombian accent.

For all the food that we had, I am surprised that the bill did not make the cha-ching sound when the waiter brought it to us. Las Tablas is another restaurant that I will add to the list of recommended eateries in the Chicago area. Since we have chosen all excellent ethnic restaurants so far, I thought about inquiring about an awful restaurant so I could sample the food and write a snuff blog. After a second of pondering that notion, taking a bad recommendation could result in a lost friendship. In the meantime, try out Las Tablas if you are ever on the North Side of Chicago and want to please the palate. I highly recommend going early because the later you go, the longer the wait for a table and seeing all the good food going out to the patrons may result in a brawl or your belly growling so loud that it embarrasses you.

Las Tablas South American Steak House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato