Twisted Tapas, Chicago, Spain

If you are celebrating a birthday two months late, is it still considered a birthday celebration? That was a question that I asked my former roommate jokingly because two months had passed since we were able to have schedules line up for food, laughter, celebration, wine, and more laughter. With another mutual friend who also joins us when we meet every other month, we opted for tapas and narrowed down our restaurant selection to Twisted Tapas at 1146 W. Pratt Blvd. in Rogers Park since it was a central spot for all of us.

Bacon Wrapped Dates

Bacon Wrapped Dates

This is clearly a local haunt that many regular customers favor. It was quite evident in how many of them hugged the server, who we found out was the manager. And after the service we got, it was even more apparent why so many regulars return. We arrived before happy hour was over, so we got to enjoy happy hour prices for wine, cocktails, and a few tapas.

Skewered Chicken with Bell Peppers and Red Pepper Dip

Skewered Chicken with Bell Peppers and Red Pepper Dip

One item that you find on many Spanish tapas menus is a plate of bacon wrapped dates. The roasted pepper sauce on them cut down on the sweetness of the dates and also took a bit of the salty kick out of the bacon. What was left was flavor. Another small plate was the grilled chicken skewer. Served with red and yellow bell peppers and a dollop of a cumin paprika aioli, this dish also captured the essence of tapas that I remember in Spain proper.

Cucumber Salad

Cucumber Salad

Just for a healthy addition to our noshing, we had a plate of cucumber salad for our one cold tapas. This came with tomatoes, red onion, and feta cheese drizzled with a red wine vinaigrette. Popping with flavor, it was actually a good accompaniment with the subsequent dishes that we ordered.

Baked Goat Cheese with Marinara and Toast

Baked Goat Cheese with Marinara and Toast

Another popular Spanish tapas dish is baked goat cheese in marinara. Served with garlic herb toast, it was surprising that all of the various flavors did not clash. And even when we had run out of toast, the complimentary bread that we had still worked perfectly for going around the inside of the bowl to enjoy the remaining goat cheese and marinara.

Escargot and Cheese on Crostini

Escargot and Cheese on Crostini

The escargot on crostini with sherry vinegar cream sauce was simply divine. Not served the the same fashion as what you get at French restaurants, the preparation on toast was noteworthy enough to try at home if ever I buy any escargot. Otherwise, this is one of my reasons for returning to Twisted Tapas.

Seared Spicy Shrimp

Seared Spicy Shrimp

A big hit for me was the seared spicy shrimp with red pepper flakes in olive oil. The remaining complimentary bread and the extra bread that we requested were ideal for sopping. Not peppery to the point of the dish not being enjoyable, the plump shrimp on the bread and the oil made for a menu item I would have on repeat visits.

Lobster Ravioli

Lobster Ravioli

The one dish that was indeed a favorite among the three of us at the table was the lobster ravioli. Topped with a white wine seafood sauce and a sun dried tomatoes, this could easily become a seafood lovers vice. This is the second item that I would have every time I return.

Beef Shirt Rib

Beef Short Rib

The beef short rib was what I call the “showing out” dish. Sitting atop a sweet potato gratin and falling apart every time we tried to get a forkful of it, I could see middle American families wanting a giant plate of their own instead of a small plate for sharing. This is the first time I have had beef short rib at a tapas restaurant in America that did not come out raw or crispy. The chef got it correct.

Twisted Tapas falls into the category of a hidden gem. It’s not readily visible from a main street that runs north and south through the eastern edge of Rogers Park. However, what they don’t have in visual fanfare for pedestrian traffic, they certainly make up for it in good food and in outstanding service. I got a recommendation to sample a few years ago. It took a late birthday celebration for me to actually make a date. And now for me to see when I have a break in my schedule to return.

Twisted Tapas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Little Unicoco, Big Taste in Authenticity

Little Unicoco

A few weeks ago during lunch, I was reminiscing with a good friend about my days when I lived in Rogers Park. The neighbourhood has since changed. Old businesses have closed. New businesses have opened. The changing demographics of the old neighbourhood are bringing a new vibe. And with all of these changes is a wave of restaurants with international flare. My friend had mentioned that a new Nigerian restaurant opened next to my favourite coffeehouse. So, this week I was off to Little Unicoco at 1631 W. Howard Street.

Plantain Chips

Plantain Chips

Arriving during the mid afternoon, I had a seat in what is called the market area of the restaurant. The larger lounge area was on the other side of the walled partition. After placing my order, I had fried, sweet plantain chips. Forget about potato chips and fancy chips touting less fat and healthy options. The all-natural sweetness and pop in the fried plantains were a winning combination. I was glad to find that the market portion of the restaurant has these lovelies bagged for take-away.

Goslings Ginger Beer

Goslings Ginger Beer

Much like the most recent Doctor Who, I’m not always a good man. Having inquired about whether there was ginger beer for imbibing, the server informed me that there was. She even poured the beverage with care, as if pouring beer. But this was the good kind of beer. Nothing like the fizzy pop that you buy off the shelves at your local grocer, this reminded me of homemade ginger beer, the variety that people take time to boil with real ginger that they leave in and you get to enjoy somewhat as candy when you’re done downing the ginger beer. Being bad, I sent a photo to my food advisor, knowing how much she loves “real” ginger beer. I imagined her shaking her fist at her cellphone before she sent a text back to me with three words: Don’t tease me!

Meat Pie and House Sauce

Meat Pie and House Sauce

One of my favourite Nigerian snack foods is a meat pie. Bread is a vice and the crust in Nigerian meat pies is well past addictive. Filled with a nice amount of minced, ground beef, this is a food addict’s dream along with a tomato based hot sauce. By the third bite, I had decided that I would order several for take-away so that I could have them for breakfast over the next few days. The caveat is I will devour them all in one day.

Suya

Suya

Next to the table was suya. This is another snack food that screams “have at it and know that I am the best barbecue ever.” Sliced beef with Yaji spices on onions and tomatoes, the ginger from the ginger beer combined with the spices on the suya transported me mentally back to Lagos with my university classmates who knew where to find all the good street food.

Egusi and Pounded Yam

Egusi and Pounded Yam

The final dish was one that I have loved with rice. But on this visit, I had to lose my Westernisms and devour this dish with pounded yam rather than with the assistance of table utensils. Egusi soup. This bowl of spicy, pounded egusi seeds filled with fish and beef is my favourite Nigerian dish, with non-vegetarian pepper soup and isi ewu coming in next. I have enjoyed the spicy kick of egusi soup with rice whenever I had a chance to have a bowl placed in front of me, however, there was something about eating it with the pounded yam that made it taste like I was eating something from home.

Chin Chin with Nutmeg

Chin Chin with Nutmeg

As a wrap-up, the server asked if I would like to sample a dessert. You have not had a tastier snack until you have had a fried pastry called chin chin. I sampled some that had been flavoured with nutmeg. I remembered being gifted some from a classmate’s mother who prepared some for a care pack when I was leaving Nigeria to return to New York for an intern when I was in university. It was as if I had gone back to Ibadan in 1989 to relive that flight again.

Chin Chin

Chin Chin

Little Unicoco packs a huge punch with authenticity. Granted I went earlier in the day well before the dinner crowd arrived, the service was still top. The atmosphere was welcoming and even the owner walked to every table and inquired as to whether this was everyone’s first time having Nigerian food and if there were any answers he could provide. Now I have another go-to Nigerian restaurant in Chicago. Big ups, Little Unicoco.

Little Unicoco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Taste of Trinidad, Flavour for the North Side

Those who spend time in Chicago’s North Side and along the expanding Northwest Side corridor can attest to how great it is having stretches of shops and restaurants that pander to pedestrian traffic. Although Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Wicker Park, and River North may be the areas many will name first, Rogers Park is slowly becoming a haunt. No longer is Sheridan Road the only popular walking stretch, but there is also Howard Street just to the west of the Howard Red Line stop.

Taste of Trinidad

A few weekends ago I went to a Senegalese restaurant on Howard Street and fell in love with the establishment. On my way back to the Howard Red Line stop, I walked past a Trinidadian restaurant. This past weekend I went to that restaurant — Taste of Trinidad at 2045 W. Howard Street. Having had some authentic Trinidadian food, I had to see if this new find would be worthy of any return visits. Well, it is.

Sorrel

Sorrel

Ginger Beer

Ginger Beer

Considering how the temperatures waited until September to become unbearably hot and humid, I started with a sorrel. This hibiscus drink is very popular in Caribbean and West African menus. Per my usual extreme craving, I ordered a curry chicken roti. I had the option of having the roti with or without the bone. Going the cultural route, I ordered the dish with the bone in. Looking more like a stuffed burrito, there was chicken in a hearty curry gravy with chickpeas and potatoes. Delicious. And the roti was substantial, quite filling.

Roti with Curry Chicken

Roti with Curry Chicken

Because food at Taste of Trinidad is prepared to order, I waited a few minutes before ordering a plate of curried shrimp with pelau, plantains, and cabbage. The shrimp were fat. The curry gravy was out of this world. The pelau, which were rice and beans, could be a meal alone and one so tasty that no one would complain about no meat. As usual at Caribbean and African restaurants, the plantains were clearly prepared after they were properly ripe because they were neither al dente nor were they less than sweet. And the cabbage was simply divine. Having downed all of that, slowly and to completion, I had a homemade ginger beer that puts bottled ginger beer products to shame.

Curry Shrimp, Pelau, Plantains

Curry Shrimp, Pelau, Plantains

I some time to talk to the owner. He had mentioned that the restaurant was a franchise, after which I inquired as to whether the other franchise location was Cafe Trinidad at 700 E. 47th Street. His response was, “Yes!!!” I had already become a fan of Cafe Trinidad and I was rather pleased that Taste of Trinidad is consistent with good food and fantastic service. When the owner said, “I know you’ll be back,” I guess he could see on my face that I was a satisfied customer. Then again, it may have been the smear of gravy that was at the corner of my lips.

Taste of Trinidad Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Badou Senegalese Cuisine

Several years ago when a friend and I had gone through the alphabets down to S, another friend had told us about a Senegalese restaurant on Chicago’s South Side named Yassa. That restaurant was getting a lot of positive press then and after going, we understood why. The service was fantastic and the food was incredible. There were no other Senegalese restaurants that I knew of in the metropolitan Chicago area and I was glad that Yassa was a location I could frequent.

Bissap

Bissap

Fast forward to 2015 and only a few weeks ago, while riding through Chicago’s Rogers Park on the way from the suburb of Skokie, I saw Badou Senegalese Cuisine at 2055 W. Howard Street. Imagine how happy I was to spot the restaurant. To see if I would experience culinary bliss, I made an appointment to return and followed through. And from the initial entry into the restaurant, with the owner thinking I was Senegalese, I knew that it was going to be a winner.

Curry Soup

Curry Soup

I was in the mood for something with a kick to it. Curry vegetable soup jumped off the menu. This was not just a bowl of broth with a few vegetables swimming around in it, but it was chocked full of potatoes, green beans, carrots, celery, and lentils. When I say that it was spicy, I don’t mean in a mild sense. I was in love and having a glassful of bissap made it that more satisfying. This hibiscus drink is a must.

Fataya

Fataya

Having brought a hearty appetite with me, I ordered an appetizer of fataya. These delectable pastries came stuffed with ground beef in a tomato based sauce. These, too, were spicy and served with the tomato and onion sauce of kaani, I remembered how much I enjoyed these from street vendors when I went to Dakar with a friend during undergraduate school for a brief visit. I must admit that the fataya were addictive, enough that I ordered extra for takeaway.

Cebu Djen

Cebu Djen

After letting some time pass, I then ordered a main dish of cebu djen. This entree set my addiction to full bloom. Red snapper, fileted and seasoned very spicy, the meat was plump. The texture was silky like that of skate and Atlantic char. It was the succulent pop in each bite that I appreciated. The djolof rice, reminiscent of couscous, came with a whole carrot, cabbage, and eggplant. The portions were large so, I was completed sated.

Badou Senegalese Cuisine

The food is authentically Senegalese. One thing to note is there will be a wait before your dishes come from the kitchen to the table. And I am beginning to see that this seems to be customary at the cultural restaurants I have been going to as of late. Everything is prepared after you order it, not warmed up and definitely not microwaved. I highly recommend that when you go, take your time ordering various dishes and enjoy them slowly. Good food is meant to be savoured and Badou Senegalese Cuisine wins with putting something in front of you that you can take your time devouring.

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