Top 10 Jaunts for 2014

December has arrived and yet again I have the feeling that there is something that I did not do during the months of January to November. I did satisfy my resolutions for the year — getting my master bathroom remodelled, bringing my blood sugar level down, and engaging in regular exercise to shrink the tire that was around my waistline. What I did not miss throughout the year were delectable meals. And that brings me to my Top 10 Jaunts for 2014. Although I included some American restaurants in my write-ups this year, the following restaurants area reflective of the theme that I created for Chicago Alphabet Soup. So, here are my favourite ethnic jaunts for the year.

10. Turquoise Cafe
Roscoe Village is a nice spot for checking out some swanky boutiques, small cafes, and fine dining without “fine dining costs.” After a stroll down the avenue, stop in for some Turkish offerings. Spacious on the inside for several patrons and growling bellies, outdoor seating during the spring and summer, Turquoise Cafe is one of a few Turkish restaurants in Chicago. It is “the best” in Chicago, though.

Turquoise Cafe, Collage

Turquoise Cafe, 2147 W. Roscoe Street, Chicago, IL 60618

 


9. Rio’s D’Sudamerica
Bucktown is one of Chicago’s premier neighbourhoods. Homeownership, boutiques, and restaurants make up a landscape that result in a constant flow of pedestrians. When a lot of those patrons develop appetites, they find seats at Rio’s D’Sudamerica for Peruvian food packed full of wow. Rio’s D’Sudamerica is large on the inside, but unlike most big box restaurants, the food is consistently blooming with Peruvian flavour. A clear indication is the constant influx of Peruvians who frequent the restaurant. And with service that does not rush you, trust me when I say that you will be stuffed when you are done.

Rio's D'Sudamerica Collage

Rio’s D’Sudamerica, 2010 W. Armitage Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647

 


8. A10
Chicago’s Hyde Park has experienced a renaissance. With that came the addition of an Italian restaurant that deviated from the expected dishes consisting of red sauces and meatballs. There is a coastal influence to the menu, which means a splendid selection of seafood. The wait staff is engaging, the bar service is phenomenal, and the food is so awesome that you may find yourself making a reservation for a return at least once a month. The menu changes each season, so this is even more of a good reason to make A10 Hyde Park a constant entry on your calendar.

A10 Hyde Park, Collage

A10, 1462 E. 53rd Street, Chicago, IL 60615

 


7. Little Bucharest
There doesn’t appear to be a long list of Romanian restaurants in Chicago. Little Bucharest in Irving Park makes up for that. More like a banquet hall, which allows diners to sit comfortably, this bistro does not shy away from authenticity in the Romanian recipes. Expect some hearty dishes, as in plentiful in quantity. There are no boiled potatoes and bland meat dishes. Everything has a wow factor. And before you leave, you may get a special christening of an alcoholic spirit.

Little Bucharest Bistro Collage

Little Bucharest Bistro, 3661 N. Elston Avenue, Chicago, IL 60618

 


6. taKO’s KOreanos
Many restaurants will try to introduce fusion in their cuisine. Some fail. And then there are those like taKO’s KOreanos in Andersonville that get it correct. Who would have thought that Mexican and Korean would make for such a fantastic cultural cuisine marriage? Tacos, enchiladas, and burritos are prepared with Korean accents to the fillings. Having been opened since April with no kinks in the service or output from the kitchen, one would only have to notice the steady stream of customers coming and going to recognize that the fusion dishes are constant draws to those who love a mix of Mexico and Korea.

taKO's KOreanos, Collage

taKO’s KOreanos, 1706 W. Foster Avenue, Chicago, IL 60640

 


5. Altiro
The drive out to Geneva, IL, may be far. I recommend taking the Metra train so that you can go to sleep afterwards. Tacos, tacos, and more tacos, but nothing of the Taco Bell ilk and nothing of the Mexican taqueria brand either. Altiro has cornered the market on creating a variety of tacos that would otherwise be noteworthy entrées without the flour tortillas. Expect to find a bit of Central America and South America in the recipes. I have always thought that French, Italian, and Asian restaurants have the best bar service. Add Altiro to the list. For those who are indecisive, simply tell the server to surprise you and prepare to be pleasantly surprised.

Altiro, Collage

Altiro, 308 Anderson Boulevard, Geneva, IL 60134

 


4. LaNotte Cafe & Bar
The father-son team at LaNotte Caffe & Bar should be taken on the road. Well, their comedy acts should. The food, however, should remain in Berwyn where it is close enough for those in the metropolitan area to get to easily. One may argue that there is a such thing as too many Italian restaurants in the Chicago area. What they can’t say is that they know where the very best Italian restaurants are. LaNotte Cafe & Bar falls into the category of “must visit.” Food is prepared to order and to specification per the customer. The seafood dishes are my favourite and if you order the sea bass that the father de-bones tableside, then you too will understand why that dish is at the top of my list.

La Notte Cafe & Bar, Collage

La Notte Cafe & Bar, 6822 Windsor Avenue, Berwyn, IL 60402

 


3. Himshikar Restaurant
One may be able to find Indian, Pakistani, and combination Indo-Pak restaurants throughout Chicago. However, for the absolute best Nepali restaurant in Chicago, Himshikar Restaurant in the Sauganash neighbourhood is highly recommended for frequent visits. The food is slow cooked, so it does not come to the table immediately. But never mind that. You can relax or even engage the owners in conversation while the kitchen staff prepares your dishes. Himshikar Restaurant is not a large restaurant, so it makes it easy to engage the staff while trying not to shoot to the moon from such incredibly flavourful Nepali food. And once the food arrives, be ready for culinary excitement.

Himshikar Restaurant, Collage

Himshikar Restaurant, 6031 N. Cicero Avenue, Chicago, IL 60646

 


2. Oceanique
Anyone who has had authentic French food will tell you that not everything is drowned in rich cream. There is also provincial French food, which is very indulgent. Oceanique captures the best of both flavours of France. Moderate in size, this restaurant forgoes the big box effect for authenticity in the dining experience. Coupled with superb bar service and A-list table service, each meal is guaranteed to make you forget that you don’t have to fly all the way to France to have some of the best French food on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Oceanique, Collage

Oceanique, 505 Main Street, Evanston, IL 60202

 


1. Osteria Langhe
Don’t expect pasta and pizza. Osteria Langhe serves Italian food that has a bit of a French influence to it. The risotto is the absolute best and the seafood dishes are unparallelled. And if you are so inclined to want pasta, the plin is the best in Chicago. Although the food at Osteria Langhe keeps one returning for more, the atmosphere, splendid bar service, and table service create a feel of going to someone’s home rather than going to an establishment. There is truly an “old country” Italian feel in the middle of cultural hub Logan Square. Chances are by your third visit, you will be on first name basis with the staff.

Osteria Langhe, Collage

Osteria Langhe, 2824 W. Armitage Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647

 


Well, it is at this time that I want to take time to wish a Happy Holidays to all who have been following Chicago Alphabet Soup via the blog, on Facebook, and through my Instagram posts. May the New Year bring you peace, joy, and happiness. And may some server at a restaurant bring you a dish that keeps you returning for more. Until 2015, good eating!

taKO’s KOreanos, Mexican and Korean Food Marriage

taKO's KOreanos

While passing through Chicago’s Andersonville neighbourhood heading to the Argyle area for a sampling of some Vietnamese pho, I noticed a restaurant in my peripheral vision. It was “mex-asian” that caught my attention. Chicago has quite a few very good fusion restaurants. My favourite fusion restaurant is Crepe Town, where they marry French crepes with Thai cuisine and they do it very well. Keeping that in mind, I was curious as to how Mexican and Asian would play well together on the palate. Let’s just say that it is a food marriage made in heaven. So, I reversed my course and found a seat at taKO’s KOreanos at 1706 W. Foster Avenue.

Beef Barba "Korea" Fries

Beef Barba “Korea” Fries

Coming in from a bit of nip in the air, I requested some green tea. Instead of a cup of hot water with a tea bag floating delicately in it, I got a pot of green tea that had toasted rice. Per that alone, I was a fan. With the menu not being extensive, I spotted an appetizer and an entrée that I thought would sate my afternoon craving. Having made some slight modifications to my diet, I ordered beef barba Korea fries. If I were one who had a kiddie palate for the love of chili cheese fries, I would denounce that hankering and indulge beef barba Korea fries daily and without complaint. Pulled beef, seasoned well and topped with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and chives, sat atop fries that were neither greasy nor doused with salt. I gobbled the appetizer like a man who had been deprived of a rather fantastic culinary delight.

Tacos: Spicy Chicken and Honey Chili Shrimp; Kimchi Rice; Potato Salad

Tacos: Spicy Chicken and Honey Chili Shrimp; Kimchi Rice; Potato Salad

Where I figured I would see the Mexican-Asian fusion would be with the tacos. What I got was Mexican-Korean and food harmony in my tummy. The spicy Korean chicken taco started out as my favourite taco of all times. Topped with a house vinaigrette slaw and roasted sesame seeds, the server didn’t have to ask if I thought that taco was inviting to the palate. Where I was left in awe was with the honey chili shrimp taco. This taco had butterflied panko shrimp, not popcorn shrimp. Also topped with a house vinaigrette slaw and roasted sesame seeds, the honey chili sauce had me claiming the honey chili shrimp taco was my “now” favourite of all times. The tacos came with a potato salad that was clearly not of the fast food preparation and not of the “refrigerator section” variety either. And the kimchi fried rice, that reminded me of spicy bibimbap rice, rounded out an ideal lunch selection.

Green Tea

Green Tea

taKO’s KOreanos ranks up there in the “Absolute Best” category with service. Although I was too stuffed to entertain the Mexican-Korean fusion burritos or any other menu items, what I had was enough to convince me that anything coming from the kitchen will be appreciated fully by anyone who enjoys food without requiring the dishes to be of a purist recipe. One thing to note is that taKO’s KOreanos has a cash-only policy. Never fear, as the prices are reasonable. As to the fusion, there are not many restaurants that know how to balance or “influence” dishes when mixing recipes from different cultures. But when they get it correct the way that taKO’s KOreanos get it, you understand why most of the customers who come in seem so familiar to the restaurant staff. Like me, they love cultural harmony, even more in their food.

Takos Koreanos on Urbanspoon

Authenticity

Earlier this week I went to one of the Cuban restaurants where I had gone in January — Cafecito. This time a colleague who had recommended the restaurant accompanied me on my visit. Upon entry, the owner greeted me by name and I greeted him by name. We chatted at length and when I introduced my colleague, he asked if she was the one who had told me about the restaurant. He had read the journal entry I had written about my experience at Cafecito and his recollection of the statement I had given about my colleague recommending the place was very telling. His brand of authenticity will be missed greatly.

Who Knows?

Throughout the week, I finally experienced the bittersweet moment that I knew would come eventually, with me soon to depart Chicago. I got a chance to meet with a few past co-workers, great friends, family, a past supervisor, and several others who have become significant parts of my circle. They jokingly rubbed in the fact that my constant appetite will keep me in some eatery in DC stuffing my jaws and that I will perhaps gain weight. They gave me names of cafés, restaurants, and holes in the wall that will certainly please the palate. A few paid for my Chicago Symphony Orchestra tickets and one volunteered to take my Chicago Lyric Opera subscription. And they all blocked my time for the remainder of my stay so that we could fellowship. Their brand of authenticity will be missed greatly.

Chop Chae

On Friday night, I returned to a certain Korean barbecue restaurant in Chicago’s North Side named San Soo Gab San. Teeming with people, this house of all good eats was perfect for escaping wet, dreary weather. Rainy on the outside, warm and toasty on the inside, one of my great friends and I had decided to meet to get our fill of countless little bowls of edibles, and entrée of a savoury noodle dish, and meat on a hibachi. With cameras in hand and a camcorder, too, this time, I was ready. And my great friend was equally as ready as he brought his fantastic camera to capture the impressions left on the table for us to address and the final snapshots of how aggressive we were with the treats set before us.

Kimchee

For anyone who has gone to any Korean barbecue restaurant, you are well aware that nothing comes to the table ala American fare. Little bowls of this, that, and the other are stacked on the table in whatever spot available. When you think that there is no more room because an entrée has arrived at the table and plates of raw meat so that you can grill yourself have been brought, the servers figure out how to move things around to make more room for additional small bowls. Aye, aye, aye! Kimchee, potato salad, potatoes, lettuce, spiced pickles, bean sprouts, spiced tofu, water vegetables, peanut sauce, and things that you simply eat so that you can make space are there for the sampling. Although I am primarily vegetarian, albeit not one leading a crusade against eating meat, I had some chop chae. This plate of happiness — clear noodles, chopped beef, onions, and scallions — went down the gullet with no complaint and no wicked side effects. Well, that is unless you count being sleepy afterwards a side effect. There was bulgolgi, which is well-seasoned beef, shredded nicely, and doctored with a splendid amount of spices that went on the grill and cooked to bliss. Same was the case with the lip-smacking chicken. Gobbled up with all of the small side dishes, my great friend and I did one of the most awful things afterwards: we went and had gelato at Paciugo in Lakeview. I am not talking about a manageable scoop of one flavour either. No, there were four scoops stuffed into our individual cups and tended to with utmost diligence. Oh the shame of it all.

Saturday I spent a moment downtown taking in some architectural photography. Most of it was inside because the wind that whipped back and forth from Lake Michigan was a bit more nippy than I had anticipated. I visited the Chicago Cultural Centre and kicked my self, literally, for having not gone before now. The architecture, the attention to detail, the glass dome, the Tiffany dome, and the moment of relaxation that gave such ideal escape were exactly what I needed. After a few hours had passed, my belly started growling. Haha. Another great friend from Phuket, Thailand, met me downtown at a Thai restaurant after my photography session. Having gone to the restaurant, My Thai, it was great being able to see the manager and constant wait staff one last time. Where it became a quiet moment was when it dawned on my Thai friend and me is that we both are leaving Chicago, he to return to Thailand, me to go to DC. He was one of the first people I had met when I moved to Chicago seventeen years ago, an authentic friend who taught me how to speak in Thai in exchange for me giving him enough in French. Saying lacone, which means good-bye, sounded so final and it left me quiet for far longer than I could manage.

Chicken, Onions, Rice Noodles

This weekend ended with me catching up with the aforementioned colleague — who really is more like family — who had suggested the Cuban restaurant to me. We met at Eggsperience, one of the American breakfast, brunch, and lunch restaurants in Chicago’s River North. We had fluffy pancakes, crisp waffles, scrambled eggs with cream cheese, freshly squeezed orange juice, a banana smoothie, and plenty of laughter. A quick walk over to Intelligencia, we watched the barrister prepare our coffee through some brewing process that looked more like a science experiment than mere percolating-and-pour. We took in a free concert at Chicago Cultural Centre, given by Chicago Chamber Orchestra. And a brilliant finish to the day was dinner at Tamarind, which is a Pan-Asian restaurant in Chicago’s South Loop, where we had chicken masala, spicy salmon maki, and another maki that was incredibly catchy to the eye and filling to the tummy. Of all days, I left home sans my camera. The food was journal-worthy.

The upcoming week will come and go in the twinkling of a moment. As I look back over the restaurants that I have visited over the past several years, I am amazed truly at how many I have covered. I never had any intention of putting a restaurant on the blog site that had food unsatisfactory to my palate or service that was not pleasing to my sensibilities. To date, there was not one that failed. There were the magnetism of flavours, outstanding service, and authenticity — there is that word again — that kept me returning. I cannot bottle my moments and place them on a shelf, but I still have records of my adventures. My dining experiences and my relationships have been constants that have kept me smiling. As I go into this final week, I will savour the precious memories and a little thing that the world could use more of: authenticity. Until the last supper…