Little Bucharest Bistro

Little Bucharest Bistro

Several years ago, an individual who had done some photography and web development for some restaurants had given me two recommendations. One was for an Italian restaurant — Pasta D’Arte — and the other was for a Romanian restaurant. I went to Pasta D’Arte during the late summer of 2013 and decided that I should also follow up on the second recommendation. So, not far from Logan Square is Little Bucharest Bistro at 3661 N. Elston Avenue in Chicago’s Irving Park neighbourhood. It was a nice Saturday afternoon and my appetite was absolute wildly, now more than ever because I had been doing a few sessions of CrossFit training.

Little Bucharest Bistro has an airy, spacious interior and thanks to plenty of large windows, the setting isn’t dim. For those who wish to sit outside, there is outside seating, but having arrived early, indoor seating next to a window worked perfectly for me. Although Eastern European food is something that I prefer mostly when the temperatures are chilly, I asked my server for recommendations, while informing her that vegetarian is my first preference and seafood is my second. The offerings that I got had exceeded my expectations.

Little Bucharest Bistro Collage

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

For a starter, I had borscht. At most Eastern European restaurants, the borscht tasted like it had been prepared with pickled beets from a jar. The taste was alway too sharp. At Little Bucharest Bistro, there was definitely a flavouring of cooked beets from a garden that didn’t leave an overpowering taste. It was also nice that the soup was full of beets and not just beet juice. Second to the table was the village salad, which consisted of red bell peppers, green bell peppers, red onions, cucumber, feta cheese, tomatoes, and olives. Drizzled with a nice balsamic vinaigrette, this was rabbit food I would welcome anytime. With the complementary, homemade bread, my taste for Eastern European food had a bit of a renaissance.

A light appetizer that I got next was a plate of eggplant, prepared much like baba ganoush, that was served with pita bread, a small salad, and a melange of pickles, crepes with cream cheese, and salmon. What an offering and this small platter still packed a flavourful punch that I would gladly indulge on future visits. And in keeping with vegetarian dishes, there was the vegetarian goulash. This was a hearty dish of grilled eggplant, cabbage, peppers, spinach, and garlic couscous in a tomato sauce. I was expecting something along the lines of a spaetzle, but the goulash was a classic example of different being outstanding.

There is the feel of family-owned and small restaurants that you get as soon as you enter Little Bucharest Bistro. From the owner greeting you at the door — you never get that kind of welcome at downtown eateries — to the wait staff that is attentive and engaging to the food that leaves you wanting more, this is certainly a restaurant that should be on your list of places you must sample in Chicago. Aside from my usual running around, travelling, and getting into other things, it should not have taken me years to follow up on the recommendation to go to Little Bucharest Bistro. This first experience is definitely all the more reason I shall have to return again very, very soon to see what other delights they have on their menus to convert me into a regular customer. And with autumn and winter coming, Eastern European food will do well for my appetite.

After Dinner Drink

After Dinner Drink

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Starting 2014 Spicy, The Indian Garden

Daal Soup

Daal Soup

Calendar year 2013 went out on a good note for me. I brought my weight back down to a manageable 205 pounds. My physician was rather happy about that. Considering all of the food I ate last year, I am surprised that I got down to 205 only. However, it seems that I may have to keep my weight in the range of 200 to 205 pounds. My weight gain ironed out all potential wrinkles that were starting at the corner of my eyes, under my eyes, and across my forehead. Now all I have to do is maintain a low stress level to ensure those wrinkles don’t creep up on my face. My glucose level is still a concern and that feeds into my New Years Absolution: no desserts. Ugh! Where my health is concerned, I won’t run around whining, “It’s so hard eliminating sweets from my diet.”

Naan

Naan

This year started out with Chicago being subjected to sub-zero temperatures. We had a week and a few days of feeling like the city should have been renamed Chiberia. I dressed in my construction man outfit for warmth. Let me be the first to say that construction coveralls are a winter blessing. In addition to the arctic freeze in Chicago, I had to travel some for work. Nothing beats traveling to another city with warmer temperatures and then wind up bitter when having to return to bitter Chicago. The good news is the assurance that some restaurant’s doors would be opened for business and I would enjoy some culinary satisfaction inside where the heat is no doubt turned up to at least 75 degrees. Such was the case when I trudged through snow, across ice, and through downtown wind tunnels — between our numerous skyscrapers — to The Indian Garden at 518 W. Harrison Street in Chicago’s Near South Loop.

Baigan Bharta

Baigan Bharta

I had been to The Indian Garden for lunch with some colleagues during autumn of 2013 and was slightly nonplussed. I love Indian food in all of its spicy glory. The lunch buffet was for the milder palate. Sigh. I smiled as I spooned a bit of this and a bit of that on my plate. A few month later, I returned to get take-away after work. When I got home and devoured a plate of bhindi masala, choley, and shrimp achari, I swore off going to The Indian Garden for their lunch buffet. My personal pact was to go for the after-five fare. And because the take-away was so blooming tasty, I returned for an in-house dining experience.

Daal soup. Baigan bharta. Curry shrimp. Naan. Masala Chai. WOW!!!

Curry Shrimp

Curry Shrimp

The daal soup was a perfect winter soup. There was, of course, the spicy factor that draws me to Indian restaurants. The beauty of this soup was that I didn’t get just a cup of it. No, I had a bowl of the hearty dish and a faint hint of heat rising from my scalp. Put a footnote there. I love spicy food. For my entrées, I really showed how much of an appetite I have. I ordered baigan bharta and curry shrimp. To date, I have not been to any Indian restaurant that had baigan bharta that made me want to run out into the street to meet my match with a renegade Chicago taxi drive. The creamed eggplant at The Indian Garden ranks high on my list of dishes that everyone should try. The curry shrimp left me speechless. As I am getting back to having a serious pescatarian diet, the shrimp curry was a cacophony of flavour, but I felt as though I had not ordered enough. So, I ordered extra to take home. With the basmati rice and tandoori naan, I was Gino in the Sky with Curry. And for my wrap-up, I ordered a masala chai that I drank without any sugar. Yes, it was that good.

Baigan Bharta, Basmati Rice, Curry Shrimp, Naan

Baigan Bharta, Basmati Rice, Curry Shrimp, Naan

The Indian Garden has one other location: 2546 W. Devon Avenue in West Rogers Park. In the same manner as the Near South Loop location, the food is outstanding and the service is remarkable. The location at 518 W. Harrison Street is more intimate than the West Rogers Park spot. From my experiences visiting each, and discounting the first visit for the lunch buffet, I cannot come up with a reason to miss out on all the delectable menu items that your taste buds can endure. Bernadine at 2546 W. Devon Avenue, Stephen at 518 W. Harrison Street, the staff at both sites, and the flavourful dishes that come forth from their kitchens make The Indian Garden a constant destination — or rather a constant destination for me and my constant hunger.

Masala Chai

Masala Chai

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