Punta Cana, Chicago, Not Dominican Republic

Punta Cana Restaurant

I cannot really say if international traveling makes me suffer from jet lag more or if it does wicked things to heighten my appetite. Having returned from a long trip, where I stood up for a friend in his wedding, I have been waffling between napping, unfolding, and hunting for something to fill my jaws. Honestly, that’s routine for me every weekend, but globetrotting really spikes my want for putting my feet under the table and making magic — making food disappear.

Mangu, Eggs, Fried Cheese

Mangu, Eggs, Fried Cheese

Now, I am not a fan of denying myself a proper breakfast. And my friend’s uncle and aunt, who was hosting a group of us, cooked a Dominican breakfast that left me a tad bit rumpled with a constant smile. Their desayuno was exactly the hint I needed to find myself venturing towards the southern end of Logan Square to Punta Cana Restaurant at 2200 N. Kimball Avenue. Small, quaint, family style, and with the kitchen viewing distance from the seating area even for those with nearsighted vision, I was at one of the tables having a Dominican staple of mangu, eggs, and fried cheese. Sprung!!! When your hunger actually has a voice, trust me when I say that a plate of mashed plantains, eggs sunny side up, and fried cheese will satisfy your craving. And with a cafe con leche in hand — Starbucks  what? Intelligentia where? Dunkin Donuts huh? — I was very much in my happy place.

Sancocho

Sancocho

A few days had passed and I returned. I was curious as to whether they had a certain staple in the Dominican diet that Dominicans enjoy during the weekends. I wanted some sancocho. Wouldn’t you know that as soon as I got through the door, there were others sitting at the few tables with their faces hovering over bowls of the soup? I must have been a bit too overjoyed because a few seconds had passed before I registered that the woman at cash register had asked me where I was from because my Spanish was so fluent. If I don’t know anything else in any other language, I have a comfort ordering food. And believe me when I say that you, too, will speak Spanish complete with accent and inflections once you start slurping some sancocho. ¡Aye, Dios mios!

When I made the first pass over the alphabets for the blog, finding a country representative of D was challenging. There was one Dominican restaurant that I did stumble upon. With these recent visits to Punta Cana Restaurant, I have a feeling there may be more. I shall have to hunt for them because it may be some time before I get back to Dominican Republic. In the meantime, it costs me far less to walk or bike to Punta Cana Restaurant for some more mangu and sancocho. Gino, your plate of food is in la concina.

Dominican — Tropical Taste

Tropical Taste

One of the things about living in Chicago is that you have to endure the obligatory minimum six months of winter. If you have lived in warmer climates and now live in the northern part of the United States, you tend to long for temperatures reminiscent of those above 60 degrees during the stretch of November through April. Unfortunately, those of us in Chicago tolerate the long months of cold weather because there is so much to do, so many places to go, and a host of restaurants that will serve as replacements for the restaurants you would find below the imaginary line that does not entertain frigid temperatures for extended lengths of time.

Of all the ethnic restaurants I have covered in the food journal, finding something representative of the letter D was quite a challenge. And then I decided to use Google to see what I could conjure up. Lo and behold, a set of Dominican restaurants are in the city of Chicago. One happens to be not too far from where I live. Talk about convenient. Talk about something to remind you of a warmer climate. Talk about me getting my book bag, camera, wallet, and appetite, and dashing out the door to go get fed.

Located at 3330 W. North Avenue on the ground floor of a brownstone building is Tropical Taste Restaurant. Upon entering, you really do find yourself immersed among those from the island or at most one generation removed. The only English I heard the entire time I was there was that from the television with the Chicago Bears putting a whipping on the Seattle Seahawks. Since I had left before the game ended, I hoped that Seahawks did not make a comeback and defeat the Bears. But I digress. The murals. The atmosphere. The patrons. The kitchen surrounded by a low counter that all in the restaurant could see. The food. All was a combination that I found with the sameness that I remember from jaunts throughout the Caribbean and, in particular, visiting Santa Domingo many years ago. You practically go into someone’s home to experience your food excitement. Even the owner’s daughters were actively playing and having their share of fun in the main area, since they were, for all intents and purposes, at home.

Sancocho de Gallina

Sancocho de Gallina

Tropical Taste Restaurant does not have one of those extensive menus that go on endlessly across five, six, or seven pages. There is a typed menu placed nicely under the see-through plastic on the tables. With it being Sunday, I saw that they had a certain dish that I could not get enough of in Dominican Republic, as well as I could not get enough of with an old friend I had met in Chicago who was from there and made it quite often for me in her kitchen. Sancocho. This dish is rather popular in several Latin cultures, but Dominican sancocho is the best known. This national dish is a stew that consists of white rice, potatoes, plantains, and usually chicken. Sancocho de gallina, chicken sancocho, is what I had and considering sancocho de gallina is often made for special occasions or on weekends, it was quite fitting for me today. I had wanted some manchu, which are mashed plantains, but they were out of them. The last of the plantains had gone into some previous customers’ sancocho and I got the last in mine. Perfect.

Would I return? Yes. Would I recommend it to anyone else? Yes. What I will add is that while the service is top, their comfort is with speaking Spanish primarily. Considering the neighbourhood, Spanish-speaking customers are the norm. It was easy for me and I think it made ordering and the whole experience more welcoming. The owner, discovering that I had no hesitation switching into Spanish, had started telling me about how long the restaurant has been in business — four years now — and how rewarding it has been coming from Dominican Republic with no English talents and thriving to date with the restaurant business. I will advise you to go with an appetite and be prepared to have some of the best dishes from Dominican Republic placed before you. Even if you may not be fluent or mildly conversational in Spanish, that is quite okay. There is plenty of comfort to be had, tasty food to eat, and warmth to defrost the chill from Chicago’s brutal winter.

Tropical Taste on Urbanspoon

Todo es bien en la tierra

Sancocho de Gallina
Hello, fellow food enthusiasts and reading audience. It appears that the year 2011 is starting off with a bang. I am finding more restaurants, as if that is a hard thing to do in Chicago. My push for migrating into being more serious about photojournalism through food and restaurant critiques is burning brighter within me. I am on the move. Considering the chilly weather we have been having in Chicago, I must admit that I am surprised at how I get out in the cold temperatures and manage to find myself in some restaurant getting satisfaction on a plate and in some cup. Part of it is I get to take advantage of free heat at these eateries instead of running the heat non-stop in my own condo. Yes, that is very self-serving of me.

Nevertheless, I have found a restaurant representative of an ethnicity starting with the elusive letter D. Dominican. I remember there being one restaurant in the city that had a Dominican flair to it, but I never wandered into that part of Chicago much. But I did today and oh was I glad that I did. I have a restaurant on Chicago Alphabet Soup for the letter D: Tropical Taste. According to the web, there are several Dominican restaurants in the city. However, after reading some of the information on the restaurants, they are actually Puerto Rican. That is just fine because I do not have a Puerto Rican restaurant on the blog. That can be addressed with no problem.

Now if only there was at least one restaurant in the city for those with a taste of food from Qatar, I would really have met a challenge. Then again, I am going to Doha, Qatar, in March, so I will simply have to settle for getting some food from there until a Qatari restaurant opens in Chicago. In the meantime, I will be on the hunt for another restaurant to sample.