Paladar Cuban Restaurant and Rum Bar

Paladar Cuban Restaurant and Rum BarA few years ago while enjoying the great outdoors and having some Mexican food at a neighbourhood restaurant, the owner had mentioned a nearby Cuban restaurant that he thought I would enjoy. The name he gave was Paladar, at 2252 N. Western Avenue. Like a lot of recommendations, I filed the name and then forgot about it until recently when I was walking along Western Avenue. Let me just start by saying that I should start taking recommendations seriously.

Guava Mojito

Guava Mojito

Mango Mojito

Mango Mojito

Arriving early before the lunch crowd on a Saturday afternoon, I perused the menu, deciding on a common appetizer and leaving the main dish up to my server’s recommendation. To wet my palate, the first cocktail I had was a guava mojito. Reminding myself not to down it like I was thirsting for water, it was hard to fight the temptation to turn it up and finish it in a few gulps because it was mixed just that well. Not heavy-handed with alcohol, it was apparent that the recipe had a good bit of it by the time I got halfway through the drink.

Flight of Empanadas

Flight of Empanadas

Along with the guava mojito, I had a flight of empanadas. There was a guava with cheese that was the best of that kind that I’ve had at any other Cuban restaurants in Chicago. The shredded chicken was flavourful enough that I made it a point to order several for take-away. The same applied to the beef empanada that I ordered in equal quantity to enjoy later. All served with three sauces — house barbecue, spicy avocado, and habanero — these baked treats were worth indulging what most would consider usual fare at Latin American restaurants.

Sauces: Habanero, Spicy Avocado, Barbecue

Sauces: Habanero, Spicy Avocado, Barbecue

Usually when I go to Cuban restaurants I order what I consider safe dishes (e.g., ropa vieja sandwich or ropa vieja plate, arroz con pollo, or chuletas). This time I deviated by accepting my server’s recommendation for chivo. Having eaten more than my share of curried goat, the slow cooked goat stew served with congri and sweet plantains at Paladar was all the reminder I needed to develop a new love for this stew. From the meat falling off the bone without any help to the nice kick from the habanero to the sweet plantains that were caramelized rather than dry to yucca that fell apart on the fork, it should not have taken this long for me to indulge a plate of such an outstanding dish. And the mango mojito that I had with the main dish was a case of a bartender’s concoction done correctly.

Chivo

Chivo

For the finale, I opted for bomba. More like Italian tartufo, this came to the table as an ice cream ball of chocolate and vanilla ice cream encasing a maraschino cherry and slivered almonds, covered in a dark chocolate shell. I countered the cold with a café con leche, a perfect ending to a perfect meal. Perhaps I shall have traditional flan, bread pudding, or guava with cheese on my next visits, but the ice cream was a plus for my first pass.

Bomba y Cafe con Leche

Bomba y Cafe con Leche

During the first few times I had walked past Paladar, the restaurant seemed empty. On entry during my proper sit-down visit, the restaurant still seemed vacant, but then I realized there are two rooms in the restaurant. I sat in the front room, which filled in quickly after I had arrived and ordered. Noting the various cadences of Spanish spoken in the front room, I detected sing-sing Cuban Spanish, rapid fire Puerto Rican Spanish, easy-come-easy-go Mexican Spanish, and the ting-ting-ting of silverware on my plate. Given Chicago’s many Cuban restaurants on its landscape, it’s fantastic having one in Logan Square landscape that’s within short distance to home. I will need to get some more empanadas when I run out of the ones that I ordered to take home with me. Hint, hint.

Paladar Restaurant & Rum Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Azucar, 9 Years of Tapas

Azucar

When I moved to Logan Square, there were several restaurants on the landscape that looked inviting. I made plans to go to the restaurants and then I realized one day that eight years had passed … and I had not gone to several of the restaurants. Azucar Tapas & Cocktail Bar at 2647 N. Kedzie Avenue was one of the many eateries that I passed and never stopped in for a sampling. I corrected that recently.

Olivos Machacadas en Casa

Olivos Machacadas en Casa

Having had a spell of hot and humid weather recently, Chicago experienced a reprieve from feeling tropical. During my visit to Azucar, I sat outside to enjoy the nice breeze and a degustation of a few tapas items. For a refresher, I started with a white peach sangria that was quite refreshing. While the alcohol was not heavy-handed, it was indeed there. To go with the sangria was olivos machacadas en casa, which was a selection of olives and baby pickles.

Empanadas Pollos

Empanadas Pollos

The next course to arrive was a plate of empanadas pollos. These were tapas size empanadas, but they packed a huge flavour profile. They were not merely stuffed with shredded chicken, but they were stuffed with well-seasoned shredded chicken. Served atop a tomato sauce and accented with basil, these were ideal with the finishing of the sangria.

White Peach Sangria

White Peach Sangria

Red Raspberry Sangria

Red Raspberry Sangria

I then moved into a seafood option that was extremely tasty. The gambas a pil-pil came as shrimp sautéed in spices and served in a dish that had a creamy garlic butter sauce. The perfect accompaniment with this dish was a mini loaf of bread that was ideal for sopping up the garlic butter sauce. Also, with this dish, I had opted for a red raspberry sangria that was as refreshing as the white peach sangria and also mixed nicely to hide the alcohol.

Gambas a Pil-Pil

Gambas a Pil-Pil

The final tapas I ordered was piquillos al fuego. Even as a vegetarian option, this was absolutely divine. These piquillos peppers were stuffed with a blend of cheeses and chopped portobello mushrooms, lemon, and chickpeas. As an accent, they were topped with fennel and a roasted garlic cream sauce. I had thought the bread with gambas a pil-pil was filling. The piquillos al fuego helped induce a desire for sleep and I was okay with that.

Piquillos al Fuego

Piquillos al Fuego

Per my server’s recommendation, I ordered pastel de chocolate for a postre. Being a few notches close to sated, this decadent cake put me over the top. Served with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, I didn’t think that something so small could be so incredibly rich. And when I say that it took me over 30 minutes to finish it, it was because I didn’t want to have any regrets about leaving any before departing the restaurant.

Pastel de Chocolate con Helado

Pastel de Chocolate

Azucar recently celebrated nine years in spring, 2016. Just across the street from the Logan Square Blue Line and between El Cid immediately next door and a very short walking distance from Longman & Eagle, it’s in a prime location where there is plenty foot traffic. The menu is not extensive, which is very good for narrowing down selections, and the food is full of flavour. It took me eight years to walk the few short blocks from my condo to Azucar. It won’t take eight more years. That’s a guarantee.

Azucar! 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

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

Aripo’s Venezuelan Arepa House

Aripo's Venezuelan RestaurantOften I run into people who offer suggestions about where to go for some great food fare. And I smile because more often than not, their suggestions are for restaurants perhaps a notch above McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the bottom of your garbage can. What else can you do other than display a stupid smile, nod, and say blank statements like, “I will have to try that restaurant”?

AdvertisementWell, in walks a co-worker who writes on my whiteboard: Aripo’s. Then she says that it is a Venezuelan eatery in Oak Park, Illinois. Hmmm. Of all the ethnic restaurants I have frequented, Venezuelan has not been one of them. So my palms sweated. My heart beat faster. My mouth watered. And considering she has given me the names of some restaurants, cafes, diners, and gems that have never disappointed, I immediately entered into my personal calendar a date to venture to Aripo’s.

Located at 118 N. Marion Street in Oak Park, Illinois, Aripo’s is not a huge restaurant that panders to pomp. It has a bit of a fast food feel to it, mostly because it is in an outdoor strip mall that sits in the Oak Park, Illinois, business district. While slightly dim inside, but not to a point where you find yourself saying, “Ah, mood lighting,” it is still spacious enough where you can sit without having other patrons at your table with you. Lucky for me, there were seats outside and the weather was nice, so I opted to enjoy my food outside.

Being primarily vegetarian, I wanted to try something authentic but with some seafood in it. Queue the sound byte to “Jaws.” Pan in to the water with at least a few dozen human morsels for nibbling. Now there is the fin. A scream. Pandemonium. And someone bumps the record player, the needle scratches the record, and there is a scene with me outside Aripo’s stuffing a shark sandwich in my mouth. Dramatic? Perhaps. Tasty? Hell, yes!

Minced Cazon, Plantains, Lemonade

Minced Cazon, Plantains, Lemonade

At the recommendation of the cashier, I had ordered a minced cazon (e.g, Caribbean shark) sandwich that reminded me so much of a spicy tuna sandwich. I had never had shark before and I must apologize to Jaws for licking my lips with no remorse. With this also being the first time having arepa bread, that being the bread for the sandwich, eating it with minced shark between it was yummy in multiple languages, smiles, growls, and expressions. Knowing that the sandwich was going to be filling, I opted for plantains as a side order. Immediately after the first bite I imagined myself in Sheffield, Jamaica, sitting under a june plum tree watching the sun go down and wallowing on a human size plate of sweet plantains. You have to go to the Caribbean to understand, not just to a restaurant that serves delicious plantains. And the Venezuelan lemonade. ¡Ave, Maria! I do not know what it is about these restaurants in the Caribbean and in the tropics that prepare lemonade so good that you stomp your feet, smack the table, and simply start random babbling.

This was only an initial trip to Aripo’s to sample a small taste of what they have on their menu. I had read some reviews by a few individuals who had pissed and moaned about the service and the food. After my visit, clearly those characters are of the ilk that thinks McDonald’s is haute cuisine. I should have them talk to the quasi food sages who keep telling me about various magnificent restaurants in Chicago — that serve up happiness from the microwave and frozen food sections from the local markets. The discriminating palate knows. Just ask Jaws.


Redux — 22 August 2010

I am finding that the immediate neighbouring suburbs to Chicago are full of eateries that are out of this world. I had sampled some bites at Aripo’s a few weeks past and wanted to try at least one more menu item. So, I boarded the circus train that passes through the Wild West Side on my way back to Oak Park so that I could put my feet under a table at Aripo’s.

Arepa

Arepa

The cashier remembered my face. This is a selling point. She also remembered that I had said I was mostly vegetarian. However, I really wanted to be adventurous and put my vegetarianism on hold for a dish. I went way off the path with a pabellon criollo. This was spiced, pulled beef served with rice, fried plantains, and black beans. Wow! Double wow! Now say wow with one hand on top of your head and another hand rubbing your belly. Talk about tender. Talk about succulent. Talk about not feeling like I had done something terribly wrong by eating meat. This was a perfect lunch and having rice cooked just right, plantains fried just right, and black beans not cooked to a paste, my only regret was not having tried a beef or chicken dish when I first went to the restaurant.

The meal came with an arepa. This bread reminded me so much of Johnny cakes that my grandmother used to make for me when I was a little kid. The texture may be a bit off-putting for some people, but it went over very well with the seasoned beef, rice, plantains, and beans. And now that I think of it, I may consider buying a few at some point and having them on hand at home with some maple syrup for breakfast.

Pabellon Criollo

Pabellon Criollo

Aripo’s has indeed proven to be a very good authentic Venezuelan restaurant with a price that does not empty your wallet. You are, however, assured of having your belly filled. Chicago. Oak Park. Heaven. As long as I can find good food that like at Aripo’s, I am there.


Redux — 10 May 2014

I returned. The weather was perfect, it was a Saturday afternoon, and I had nothing but time to spare. I had initially wanted to get some Brazilian food, but I got off the bus at the wrong train line. After realizing my haste, I knew which end of Oak Park I would go to and which restaurant I would fortify myself at. Yes, Aripo’s Venezuelan Arepa House was it and this time I had empanadas dominos with red and green sauces, and I also had cachapas with chicken.

Empanada Domino con Salsa Rojo

Empanada Domino con Salsa Rojo

Cachapas Pollo

Cachapas con Pollo

Cachapas Pollo

Cachapas con Pollo

Empanada Domino con Salsa Verde

Empanada Domino con Salsa Verde

When most people think of empanadas, they have thoughts of the flaky, baked goodies that are stuffed with cheese, chicken, beef, seafood, or some flavourful filling. Empanadas dominos are deep-fried and filled with chihuahua cheese and black beans. Because I had two, I opted to have the red sauce, which was spicy, and the green sauce that was spicy mayonnaise with a hint of cilantro. Happiness ensued with each bite. I was headed straight for the moon when I started working my knife and fork on the cachapas with chicken. Two large corn pancakes sandwiching fried cheese and spicy, pulled chicken are a winning combination that no one should go through life without experiencing. It’s hard to believe — well, not really — that I walked into this restaurant in 2010 and each time I return, it’s as though I am having a brand new discovery. It goes without saying that I will see what else I can find exciting on their menu in the near future.

Aripo's on Urbanspoon