Goree Cuisine, Senegal in Kenwood

Goree Cuisine

During my university days, my circle of friends became very specific to West Indians and West Africans — Jamaicans, Haitians, Crucians, Ghanaians, Nigerians, Ivorians, and Senagalese. For us, it was customary to have some cultural representation in food available during study sessions that were not conducted in the library or in the labs. We built our networks so solid that whenever we travel the world, we assured each other that we or our families would look out for any in our network when we pass through their countries. When I started traveling between Chicago and Cape Town for personal holiday, I would stop in Dakar for an extended layover and, of course, partake of Senegalese food before my continuation flight.

Nem

Nem

Goree Cuisine at 1126 E. 47th Street takes me back to Dakar where everything is proper Senegalese instead of essence of Senegal. Spacious on the inside and full of light, Goree Cuisine brings authenticity to Chicago’s Kenwood neighbourhood that many mostly experience on Chicago’s North Side. Having been to two other Senegalese restaurants in Chicago, one having lost a bit of its edge and the other one very much Dakar-in-Chicago, Goree Cuisine is an addition to the Chicago landscape that had won me over during my first visit and had me completely addicted on my second visit.

Fataya

Fataya

The intent for my first visit was for a sampler, so I started with nem and fataya. Already aware of the history of how nem, the French word for spring roll, got its introduction into Senegalese cuisine via a Senegalese soldier’s marriage to a Vietnamese woman, I had an order mostly for comparison and contrast to others that I’ve had before. Stuffed with ground beef, shrimp, chicken, and glass noodles, I found these spring rolls to be considerably more appetizing than any of the proper Vietnamese variety and the best that I’ve had in America. The second street food appetizer I ordered was a plate of fataya. These flaky pastries with fish paste came with a side of kaani, a peppery tomato sauce, for dipping. Not stuffed to the point of the pastries looking puffed up, there was something almost cotton candy like with how they melted on the tongue. And considering they weren’t overly filled, there was still a lot of flavour in each bite.

Yassa Shrimp

Yassa Shrimp

For the main dish, I had yassa shrimp at the chef’s recommendation. This was pure heaven and brought about all the wonderful memories of my university days and layovers in Dakar. The shrimp were plump and fresh, complete with a hint of grilling in the taste. Served with grilled onions in mustard sauce, this was the first time on this side of the Atlantic Ocean I had a yassa dish without a visible squirt of Heinz mustard on top of the dish. The chef worked the mustard into the recipe and that made for the best yassa dish I’ve had since my last trip to Senegal.

Aloco

Aloco

On the second visit, I had my restaurant advisor join me. I knew she would indulge whatever came from the kitchen without complaint and without nose turned up. We had nem again, of which she repeatedly said, “Wow!” We then had maffe and an accompanying bowl of aloco. The maffee came in a bowl of peanut and tomato sauce with carrots, potatoes, and yams, along with rice. Reminiscent of peanut soup we’ve had at Ghanaian and Nigerian restaurants, albeit thicker and heartier, we resorted to silence while finishing this dish. And the aloco were the best prepared plantains we’ve had in months. They must let the plantains get almost overripe before frying them just to the point of caramelizing them: the best.

Maffe

Maffe

When my food advisor starts declaring, “It won’t stay on the fork,” I accept that fact that a dish is well past outstanding. This was the case with the yassa lamb. The yassa lamb came with grilled onions in a mustard sauce like with the yassa shrimp during my first visit and with yellow vegetable rice. The leg of lamb was a winner. Tender to the point where managing it was a bit trying because the meat kept falling off the bone without effort and not staying on the fork, the lamb also had no gamey aftertaste. The chef hit the mark on sending a plate to the table with tender, juicy, succulent meat that left a great lasting impression.

Yassa Lamb

Yassa Lamb

No food at Goree Cuisine goes into a microwave for a few seconds and then delivered to the table immediately thereafter. It is evident in the way the meat pulls apart from bones and how it falls from the fork. It is recognizable in how there are certain spices that you can taste “in” the dishes, as opposed to them tasting like the addition of condiments after the cooking. There is also no rush — no hurry up, be done with that plate, pay, and now leave. It is impossible to enjoy the cultural experience by rushing through it, so Goree Cuisine makes sure that not only will you fall in love with their loving from the kitchen, but that you will make plans to return repeatedly. I may not get back to Senegal often, but I will go to Goree Cuisine regularly.

Gorée Cuisines Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Yassa — New Location

Yassa

In 2007 when my first adventurous restaurant friend and I were going through the alphabets, we skipped ahead to S for Senegalese at the recommendation of a mutual friend. The restaurant, Yassa, had been featured on a show called Check, Please! There was a lot of buzz about it then and when we went, we found out why. The were simply outstanding!

Fataya

Fataya

Fast forward to 2016 and Yassa has since moved from its location in the Grand Crossing neighbourhood to Bronzeville at 3511 S. King Drive. There is still the homey interior decor. The service doesn’t have the same welcoming feel as it did years ago, although the servers are accommodating after you’ve been seated and you’ve placed your order.

Nem

Nem

During this recent visit, I went with my sister, who is an addict for any West African cuisine. We started with fataya and nem, The fataya were meat pies stuffed with a tomato-based fish paste. For years ago, the stuffing made the pies hearty. There is still the mouth-watering taste, but the filling is less. The nem, which were smaller when I went in the past, were now larger and more filling. Having its base in Vietnam, many Vietnamese refugees had come to francophone West Africa during the Vietnam War and brought the egg roll recipe with them. Since then, it has been adopted in the West African diets, Senegal being one of the countries to add it to menus. Yassa brings them to America.

Cabbage with Carrots

Cabbage with Carrots

We ordered a dish of curry chicken with yams and djollof rice. The curry gravy was absolutely divine. The lack of meat on the chicken bones did take away from the dish. Being extremely comfortable using our fingers, my sister and I picked up the bones and sucked whatever meat there was off. With the sauce, we scooped it over the djollof rice and devoured that, after which we washed it down with a hibiscus favourite of bissap.

Bissap

Bissap

Curry Chicken with Yams

Curry Chicken, Djollof Rice

The final dish we wanted to try was the red snapper. This came as a whole snapper with bone in. Again, we used our fingers to pick up the fish and devoured it along with a side of more djollof rice, cabbage with carrots, and plantains. The skin on the fish was crispier than its preparation in 2007. Good thing the inside was meaty. The plantains were good, but a few more days would have made them perfect.

Plantains

Plantains

Those who like to go to restaurants that give large portions for menu items will love Yassa. The restaurant was quite lively and filled when we arrived. They were also preparing for a live band that was setting up for an evening set, so that may explain a bit of the scrambling with the table service as well as some “rushed feel” with the output from the kitchen. My sister and I admitted that we would probably have to return to try some other dishes that were familiar to us during our individual trips to Dakar.

Red Snapper with Jollof Rice

Whole Red Snapper with Djollof  Rice

Once again, Chicago has two options for Senegalese restaurants. There is Badou Senegalese in Rogers Park, covering the North Side. And there is Yassa in Bronzeville for those venturing through the South Side.

Yassa African Restaurant 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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Yassa — Absolument Délicieux

Yassa

This little piggy went to market.
This little piggy did not.
This little piggy had roast beef.
This little piggy had none.
This little piggy went to an African restaurant on the South Side of Chicago with some friends and got stuffed — and no one got shot much to everyone’s chagrin.

The next time someone screams and runs around in circles flailing his or her arms in protest of me going to a restaurant on the South Side to get some culinary satisfaction, this little piggy will clap the individual across the cheek. An adventurous restaurant friend and I, joined by a third individual who appreciates trying something other than McDonald’s, found ourselves at Yassa African Restaurant at 716 West 79th Street in Chicago’s North Chatham neighbourhood. Usually the South Side is known for the vast array of soul food cafés, catfish shacks, and rib joints. Now my people are popping up on the scene and satisfaction has resumed it’s place in my vocabulary.

Fatya

Fatya

Unlike some restaurants where you may get a side of attitude with your entrée, Yassa was worth saying that we’d return just from walking through the doors and having the owner say, “Make yourself at home. Have a seat anywhere you’d like.” And he didn’t say it with disdain. The hostess who came to the table greeted us in French and complete with a smile. My people. Apparently appreciative of good music, there was a three-piece jazz band playing live music in the background. No disc jockey scratching some records. No get-down boogie mama dancing with swivel hips. No lyrics inducing facial expressions of concern. It was all good.

Nem

Nem

What Yassa lacks in aesthetics, it makes it up in spades in the food. We ordered fataya and nem. The fataya were four rather large empanadas — pastries filled with fish and West African spices. Those lovelies would make great snacks for lazy moments at home. The nem were like egg rolls, but stuffed with fish and other spices. This is another item that I will probably order every time I go back to Yassa.

Grilled Tilapia

Grilled Tilapia

My friends and I have a saying that if the appetizers are good, then we know the entrées are certainly going to be good. Well, we were correct and we were wrong in this instance. The appetizers were big hits, but the entrées were not just merely good. They were worthy of licking the plates. Let me just say that the large portions that Yassa serves up to customers are not for the faint of heart. I repeat, the large portions are not for individuals who waste food. We ordered a whole grilled tilapia that came with a week’s supply of the best plantains — aloco — outside of Africa and the West Indies. The fish was so large that it hung off the plate and it was so tasty. The plantains were so good that you would have thought we were land sharks the way we devoured everything except the bones. We ordered dibi lamb, which were grilled lamb chops served with spicy squash and couscous. We ate it all and even got cultural. Forks? Knives? Eating good food like that without using your fingers is insulting. We picked up the meat and dealt with it like men who appreciate good food. Well, that was not enough. We had brochette chicken, which is chicken, peppers, and onions done up shish kabob style and served with atieke and spicy squash. The atieke was yucca prepared like couscous. To wash all of these good eats down, we had sorrel juice and ginger juice. Just thinking about the juice now makes me want to get on the bus and go back right this moment. My people.

Brochette Chicken

Brochette Chicken

I should have mentioned that the plates were the size of party platters. I didn’t think it was possible to serve that amount of food and still stay in business. Then again, seeing how many customers were coming in and out, it then became apparent that as long as the restaurant serves up great food and outstanding service, they could care less about the overwhelming portions. I know that’s a high selling point for me. My people.

One dessert common in Senegal is thiakry and we ordered that after dinner. Thiakry is curdled milk with millet. Think yogurt, but with a dash of Africa thrown in for extra taste. I’ll take it. Given all the food that we had devoured, this was a hearty enough drink to please the tummy while not being stuffed more than what we were already.

Dibi Lamb

Dibi Lamb

For all of the food, juice, and dessert that we ordered, how much do you think we paid? How much do you think we should have paid? When we looked at the tab, we wondered if the waitress had forgotten something. The price is incredibly inexpensive, especially when you take into consideration the large portions of food that you receive. Then again, it’s not the price that matters as much as the satisfaction that you get. The faces of the customers and the silence of my growling belly were true indications of how great Yassa African Restaurant is. We went. We ate. We three little piggies exhaled all the way home. And we’ve already made plans to go back, even if it is the only restaurant on the South Side that will give my business to. Am I wrong for that? My belly says, “No.” My people.

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