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!

Himshikar Restaurant, Nepal Comes to Chicago

Himshikar Restaurant

After a grueling week of work, I was in a mood for an immediate divorce from the mad grind of being attached to the computer. Friday night, and I had met with two friends for dinner. Believe me when I say that there was no slow easing out of what was a maniacal work week. No, it was an immediate escape. We started with a flight of whiskey cocktails, moved into indulging a few entrées, and then wrapped up with a flight of desserts and coffee. Let’s just say that as soon as my head touched my pillow when I got home, I slept as peacefully as I did when I was gassed before having my wisdom teeth pulled. Oh, that was NOT a bad experience.

Papadum

Papadum

Well, wouldn’t you believe that I awoke with an angry appetite the next morning? Being a bachelor, my refrigerator is empty, with the exception of my Brita bottle of water. There is no way to stop the bitter grumble of my belly with nothing in my refrigerator to ease the growling. I had such a hankering for some Indian food and not wanting to go to Devon Avenue, I was beginning to fret. Ah, Google, and it’s display of some Nepalese restaurant north of where I live, I had a recommendation in hand. So, it was off to Himshikar Restaurant at 6031 N. Cicero Avenue in the Sauganash neighbourhood of Chicago.

Shrimp Til Tinka

Shrimp Til Tinka

I arrived at noon, shortly after the restaurant had opened for business. It seems to be my luck that when I get to restaurants, they are teeming with patrons and wait times are long. With Himshikar Restaurant not being in the midst of pedestrian chaos and congestion, I had my pick of a seat and a menu in hand. Having made my selection from the menu, I pulled out my camera, made the necessary adjustments for the lighting, and sat in preparation for finally putting an end to the incessant grumbling of my belly. When I had finished a few test shots of the complementary papadum, one of the owners came over and talked to me about my Nikon D90. He, too, is a photographer and uses a Nikon D800. Talk about different people finding a common ground.

Aloo Makhani, Poori, Basmati Rice

Aloo Makhani, Poori, Basmati Rice

For a starter, I had shrimp til tinka. Shrimp lightly fried and skewered on sticks sat long enough for me capture their impressions for the blog. And then I left teeth impressions on all six of them. There was actually a wow factor to the shrimp that I always experience at Japanese and seafood restaurants. The fact that they came on sticks had already put me in the mind of having yakitori. The flavour of each shrimp, without any excessive seasoning, made them all a hit. Then came aloo makhani, basmati rice, and poori. Having had chicken makhani, paneer makhani, and daal makhani countless times before, I wanted to try it with potatoes instead. There are not enough words to describe how satisfying each mouthful was. Because I had ordered the aloo makhani spicy, there was a proper kick to it that the rice and poori balanced out fantastically. Although I was left speechless as to what words to find to describe how much I was in love with my lunch offerings, my belly apparently was experiencing the same sentiments — because it has finally shut up.

Himshikar Restaurant is one of those gems that surprises you by leaps and bounds. With it not being lost among the Little India mall of shops, I had no idea that it had been in business for a little over two years. And I have said countless times that you cannot go into just any American restaurant and engage the staff in conversation with the greatest of ease. The food was out of this world, but I spent a great deal of time having conversation with one of the owners who sat across from me at an adjoining table and launched into banter very casually. It ceased to feel like I had gone to a restaurant, but rather to someone’s home who I knew well. I don’t have a problem going to friends’ homes, which means that I will return to Himshikar Restaurant regularly for all the good things I may not get in Nepal — that is, until I make that almighty trip abroad.

Himshikar Nepali and Indian cuisine on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Information


* Restaurant Name
Himshikar Restaurant
* Overall
★★★☆☆
* Neighborhood / Cuisine
Albany Park
* Street Address
6031 North Cicero Avenue, Chicago, IL 60646
* Phone
(773) 481-2003

Flavour Explosion — Mt. Everest Restaurant

Mt Everest RestaurantIt dawned on me today that the jeans I had struggled unsuccessfully to get into had a 32-inch waist, so I tossed them aside and settled for a pair of jeans with a 34-inch waist. Well, that did some good since I burst the seams at the seat of those while I was bending over to tie my shoes. I have now burst the seat in three pairs of jeans since I began my weight gain regime. I guess I should really be more serious about capping my weight gain at 205 pounds because the 36-inch-waist jeans are fitting rather nicely without a belt and I am having to replace my wardrobe, but that may mean I will have to cut back on my restaurant enjoyment. No, no way, I cannot have that. Food is still my lover.

It was a cold night in Chicago — “No, really?” you ask — and an adventurous restaurant friend and I decided to warm up over plates of Nepali food at Mt. Everest Restaurant at 618 Church Street in Evanston, Illinois. We would certainly warm up with heat from the restaurant and the spices would help even more. Located in downtown Evanston, Mt. Everest Restaurant has a storefront façade, but then becomes an expansive eatery once you enter. Courteous wait staff make sure you are thoroughly satisfied before you leave.

Samosas and Momo Chicken

Samosas and Momo Chicken

We started with two swruwats — the word for appetizers in Nepali. One was a plate of vegetarian samosas, which were flaky pastries stuffed with potatoes, green peas, herbs, and spices. The other appetizer was a plate of momo chicken. This was minced chicken mixed with Nepali spices, steamed inside wheat bread and served with Nepali aachar. I have a rule that if the appetizers are good enough to make you want to have a smoke, and I do not smoke, the rest of the dinner is certain to be outstanding. Mt. Everest Restaurant exceeded my expectations.

The good thing about eating at the ethnic restaurants is that they serve the food family style. When I say family style, I do not merely mean the family eats together. Think of Thanksgiving when food comes to the table and everyone serves themselves — as well as uninvited guests that other knucklehead family members feel should be present. I find myself eating family style more with my friends, but we are all immigrants or first generation Americans who grew up eating from a common pot. As is the norm, my friend and I ordered three entrées family style: palungo ko saag, kukhura ko maasu, and dal makhani.

The palungo ko saag was fresh garden spinach cooked with chopped tomato, onion, garlic, ginger, and Himalayan spices. The kukhura ko maasu was chicken cooked in typical Nepali village style with local herbs and spices. The daal makhani were black lentils simmered until tender and tempered with ginger, garlic, tomatoes, herbs and spices. Served with rice, aloo paratha, and garlic naan, it was hard to walk out of the restaurant with any kind of disappointment. I did have a concern about falling asleep on public transportation and missing my stop. I was thankful it was cold enough to keep me awake while I waited for the train, though.

Palungo Ko Saag, Kukhura Ko Maasu, Daal Makhani

Palungo Ko Saag, Kukhura Ko Maasu, Daal Makhani

Normally, we would opt for some dessert after dinner, but the entrées were too filling. I had already reached the point where my eyelids were getting heavy and my speech had begun to slur. That meant I could not pack in any more food. We decided to order cups of chai. You cannot go wrong with a good cup of chai and Mt. Everest Restaurant definitely did not serve up any of that store-bought stuff from the carton.

By now, you probably already know that Mt. Everest Restaurant is on my recommended list. The prices of the food are not as exorbitant as I would expect for a restaurant that serves large portions, enough to induce sleeping. You had better believe I am going back and I would even go back while it is cold outside. Then again, my food addiction always has me running up in some restaurant regardless of how cold it is or how much snow we have on the ground, so I guess weather conditions are moot. Go! Go to Mt. Everest You will not walk away unhappy, but you will be sleepy after eating all of the food. That is a given.

Mt. Everest Restaurant on Urbanspoon