Filling in Gaps

Camarones al Ajo

I looked at my calendar this morning and saw that January 2011 is practically history. And I sighed. I looked at my cough syrup bottle and recognized that I basically had that for a diet while combatting a severe sore throat, two days worth of sinus pressure that made light blinding, and a realization that with another month or two of cold weather to endure, I may find myself indulging yet another bottle of Robitussen. I sighed again. And then I put on a pair of jeans and had to accept the fact that I did not need a belt to keep them up. I inhaled. They did not shrink; I expanded. But on the eighth day God created appetite and Gino ran away with it immediately afterwards. Well, ain’t I a stinka?

Having been out of commission from dealing with the common cold — Why is there no permanent cure for it? — I awakened from my medicated stupor with my usual appetite. This time it was a little more than I could handle since the previous two days had felt like I had a torch blazing in my throat. No more earache. No more sore throat. No more chronic cough. The appetite was insatiable. I had to obey the monster.

Ever so appreciative of living in Chicago, I consulted Google for something different, something I had not done yet, something that would appease my growling belly. I had found a Dominican restaurant a few weeks past, but wanted something to start filling in some of the alphabets that I could with ease. The letter G looked a little lonely with just Greek, so I started trying to guess what ethnicity or country I could conjure up immediately that would do the trick. And it jumped out at me: Guatemalan. So, it was off to one of the trendy neighbourhoods to sample yet another Latin dish. Thank you, Google.

It really takes having time zoom by on you and being out of commission to come to terms with how important it is to take full advantage of life. I know there will be moments when I will not be able to get up and go due to some roadblock, but the prize for me at the end of it all is, hopefully, a plate of some tasty morsels to make my wait worth it. If you are catching the winter blues — to those of you above that bloody imaginary line that gets blasted with snow and frigid temperatures — keep positive thoughts and know that there is some restaurant that awaits you and your appetite.

Cough. Cough.

No, please not again. I just got over that damn, dreaded cough.

The Warmth of Guatemala — El Tinajon

El Tinajon

Another grey day in Chicago and I spent most of it inside watching the telly. Thank you, winter. A week had passed since I had gone out and put my feet under some table at one of many eateries in the city. Part of it was having to deal with a bloody cold. Nothing like having your lights and heat go out because someone hit a patch of black ice, smacked into a pole, and took out part of the electrical grid. A frosty apartment is a sure way of catching a cold and, in my case, a bad one. Having a little recovery, my appetite returned and I was a bit tired of cabin fever. So I said to myself, let the hunt for something to fill the belly begin.

Chips y Salsa

Chips y Salsa

After looking through the list of entries for the alphabet soup, I figured that I would fill in a few ethnic restaurant entries that did not have a lot of alphabetic representation. The letter G was the first to blink on my radar. Because I could count on Chicago to have at least one letter, I consulted my magic ball — Google, to be honest — and saw a Guatemalan restaurant in one of the neighbourhoods not far from me. The weather outside had warmed up just a bit. I must admit that 35 degrees is fantastic compared to the temperatures bordering on zero degrees that we had been having. I layered up enough to stay warm, grabbed my camera, camera bag, and Kindle for reading, and I was off to have comida de Guatemala.

Pache de Papas

Pache de Papas

El Tinajon at 2054 W. Roscoe Street became my destination. Located on the most active street in Roscoe Village is a gem that you could miss amid all the swanky boutiques and art chic-chic restaurants. Festive in colour and warm in spirit, it is a cute spot for a quick meal. From outside, everyone looked like they were having their fair share of communal fulfilment. When I entered, there was suddenly silence. Only when I said, solo yo, did conversation resume almost with a sigh in the air. Once everyone began talking again, I understood the exaggerated pause — everyone in the seating area spoke Spanish only. Well, that is common in Latin restaurants, but I do not look the part of someone who could be Latin, let alone speak Spanish. I sat by the window so that I could get a good number of photographs with natural light.

Camarones al Ajo

Camarones al Ajo

First to the table was a complementary basket of chips and salsa. The chips were nice and crunchy. The salsa was a bit thin yet flavourful. Not that I am a fan of all of my salsa being chunky, watery salsa tends to soften crunchy chips faster than expected. The server approached to take my order and I made my request in Spanish only. For an appetizer, I ordered plache de papas. This was a tamale with potatoes and vegetables. Apparently, you can also get plache de papas with meat — chicken or shredded beef. I opted for the vegetarian option and was glad that I did because this appetizer was delicious. My entrée was camarones al ajo. These shrimp were cut so that they were spread out like butterflies and it was quite clear to see that El Tinajon does not use the small nibble-size shrimp for this entrée. The things were plump and large. The shrimp was in a garlic sauce so reminiscent of scampi, albeit not excessive on the garlic. The rice with corn and peas in it had the texture of Asian sticky rice. This was not a bad thing, but rice prepared in most Latin dishes is fluffy. Needless to say, I ate it to completion. I washed it all down with a glass of tamarind juice. For those of you who have never had a tamarind or the juice, it could be a bit of an acquired taste. It is hard to describe the flavour, but there is a slight fermented kick that you get from some of it. I completed the dining experience with a flan. Decorated so perfectly, it was clear that it had been yanked from the refrigerator, dolled with a caramel top, garnished with strawberry and chocolate glaze, and topped with a cherry. It was a bit cold to the bite still. When you have had smooth and even creamy flan, you almost find yourself wearing the tattoo of flan snob somewhere visible. If I should ever return, I may try a warm dessert.

Flan

Flan

 

El Tinajon was a nice escape for the afternoon out of the apartment. There is a bit of charm to the place. The prices are incredibly reasonable. With the restaurant being on a street that has a tremendous amount of American pedestrian foot traffic, the food may pander to the American taste mostly. The discriminating palate knows. If you want something quick and still have enough dollars to fluff your wallet and a fair amount of change to jingle in your pocket thereafter, give El Tinajon a try. Chicago boasts a good number of Guatemalan restaurants, but El Tinajon is the only one that is not a fusion with some other Latin cuisine.

And now for me to think of what ethnicity to seek next.

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