Azucar, 9 Years of Tapas

Azucar

When I moved to Logan Square, there were several restaurants on the landscape that looked inviting. I made plans to go to the restaurants and then I realized one day that eight years had passed … and I had not gone to several of the restaurants. Azucar Tapas & Cocktail Bar at 2647 N. Kedzie Avenue was one of the many eateries that I passed and never stopped in for a sampling. I corrected that recently.

Olivos Machacadas en Casa

Olivos Machacadas en Casa

Having had a spell of hot and humid weather recently, Chicago experienced a reprieve from feeling tropical. During my visit to Azucar, I sat outside to enjoy the nice breeze and a degustation of a few tapas items. For a refresher, I started with a white peach sangria that was quite refreshing. While the alcohol was not heavy-handed, it was indeed there. To go with the sangria was olivos machacadas en casa, which was a selection of olives and baby pickles.

Empanadas Pollos

Empanadas Pollos

The next course to arrive was a plate of empanadas pollos. These were tapas size empanadas, but they packed a huge flavour profile. They were not merely stuffed with shredded chicken, but they were stuffed with well-seasoned shredded chicken. Served atop a tomato sauce and accented with basil, these were ideal with the finishing of the sangria.

White Peach Sangria

White Peach Sangria

Red Raspberry Sangria

Red Raspberry Sangria

I then moved into a seafood option that was extremely tasty. The gambas a pil-pil came as shrimp sautéed in spices and served in a dish that had a creamy garlic butter sauce. The perfect accompaniment with this dish was a mini loaf of bread that was ideal for sopping up the garlic butter sauce. Also, with this dish, I had opted for a red raspberry sangria that was as refreshing as the white peach sangria and also mixed nicely to hide the alcohol.

Gambas a Pil-Pil

Gambas a Pil-Pil

The final tapas I ordered was piquillos al fuego. Even as a vegetarian option, this was absolutely divine. These piquillos peppers were stuffed with a blend of cheeses and chopped portobello mushrooms, lemon, and chickpeas. As an accent, they were topped with fennel and a roasted garlic cream sauce. I had thought the bread with gambas a pil-pil was filling. The piquillos al fuego helped induce a desire for sleep and I was okay with that.

Piquillos al Fuego

Piquillos al Fuego

Per my server’s recommendation, I ordered pastel de chocolate for a postre. Being a few notches close to sated, this decadent cake put me over the top. Served with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, I didn’t think that something so small could be so incredibly rich. And when I say that it took me over 30 minutes to finish it, it was because I didn’t want to have any regrets about leaving any before departing the restaurant.

Pastel de Chocolate con Helado

Pastel de Chocolate

Azucar recently celebrated nine years in spring, 2016. Just across the street from the Logan Square Blue Line and between El Cid immediately next door and a very short walking distance from Longman & Eagle, it’s in a prime location where there is plenty foot traffic. The menu is not extensive, which is very good for narrowing down selections, and the food is full of flavour. It took me eight years to walk the few short blocks from my condo to Azucar. It won’t take eight more years. That’s a guarantee.

Azucar! Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bodhi, Berwyn and It’s Surprises

Bodhi

My restaurant advisor had been prompting me about a Thai restaurant in Berwyn, Illinois. Recognizing how much I love curry and a proper thick curry, she gave the name of Bodhi Thai Bistro at 6211 W. Roosevelt Road. In true fashion, this restaurant falls into the category of Most Modest because for what we had eaten to have been so blooming mouth-watering, they do not employ any grandstanding. The deserve it, though.

Thai Iced Tea, Thai Iced Coffee

Thai Iced Tea, Thai Iced Coffee

We went in the early evening one Saturday per our usual routine of trying to get ahead of the dinner crowd. We arrived at the very start of dinner rush, so we got to see a rather energetic restaurant. Starting off with a Thai iced tea and Thai Iced coffee while scanning the menu, we settled on a few known dishes we order at Thai restaurants, one known dish we’ve avoided, and a few we’ve never had before.

One dish we never ordered was the sweet potato and corn fritters. This was a plate of shredded sweet potatoes fried with corn and served with a savoury sauce topped with crushed peanuts. Light on the palate but packed with flavour, this was a perfect introduction into dinner, since we had opted for several dishes.

Sweet Potato and Corn Fritters

Sweet Potato and Corn Fritters

Another dish that we had not ordered at any Thai restaurants before was the marinated squid. Served as a nice portion, the squid had been marinated such that there was a mild smoky flavour that played well with the salad and dipping sauce. The beauty of this dish was that the squid had been cooked so that the morsels were tender with no rubbery texture.

Grilled Calamari

Marinated Squid

Moving into a dish that we’ve had at other Thai restaurants, we ordered tom yum goong. This Thai favourite came with a broth that was not sweet the way we have had it at some Thai restaurants. Because of this, we actually were able to taste distinct ingredients like lemongrass and ginger while also being able to taste the pop in the carrots and mushrooms. Highlighted with sprinkles of cilantro, there was only so much spooning we could do before we picked up our bowls and slurped properly.

Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum Goong

A dish that is popular in Thai cuisine, but we’ve avoided because it is so commonplace, is pad thai. This dish tasted very much like what I’ve had on mainland Thailand. Instead of unseasoned boiled chicken in the dish, the chicken had been marinated. The sauce used in the recipe was a fish sauce, not just soy sauce thrown in for effect. The noodles were perfect, neither al dente nor mushy. It may have been serendipity that we had held out on ever ordering pad thai until we came to Bodhi Thai Bistro because they prepare the best.

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

Another dish that we had never tried before was garlic prawns. These tasty morsels came atop green bell peppers and carrots with a dipping sauce that we used as a drizzle and a side of a rice. While the prawns had been prepared with a heavy dose of garlic, it was not overpowering such that we could not recognize that the prawns were fresh. Fresh shellfish has a pop in flavour and when the recipe allows the prawns to still have centre stage, this becomes a dish that we will order repeatedly upon return visits.

Garlic Prawns and Vegetables

Garlic Prawns

The final dish was a return to another Thai favourite, but also to one that is a favourite to us. We ordered panang curry with chicken and this was at my restaurant advisor’s suggestion. Being sticklers for hearty panang gravies, this was  certainly a lip smacking course. The dish came with sliced carrots, fresh green beans, and bell peppers. Fresh ingredients in a splendid panang gravy is something that you cannot pass up on.

We finished dinner with a plate of mango sticky rice and green tea — photo not pictured. The mango was naturally sweet. The sticky rice was warm and the coconut milk that had been poured on top made the dessert a must-have.

Chicken Panang Curry

Chicken Panang Curry

Bodhi Thai Bistro has a pleasant air about it, as far as decor is concerned. What they do incredibly well is wow the appetite without pretense and without fanfare. Truly the dishes are authentic and those who love Thai food will agree. Top service, outstanding cuisine, and Berwyn has been modest. They have bragging rights with such inviting food.

Bodhi Thai Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Angry Crab, Happy Customers

Important: If you are visiting family or friends in Chicago, do NOT go for Chicago hotdogs, deep dish pizza, or any famous popcorn. I repeat. Do NOT go for any of the tourist trap what-what. Tell them you want to go to The Angry Crab. Again, I repeat, tell them that The Angry Crab is what’s going to happen.

We now resume our regularly scheduled review … of The Angry Crab.

Cajun Fries with Garlic

Cajun Fries with Garlic

April is my birth month and for my birthday, a great friend had recommended several chic restaurants. Of course, I could offer a suggestion. I wanted something casual, something that would make me be okay with hitting my late 40’s. I told her that The Angry Crab at 5665 N. Lincoln Avenue in West Ridge was where I wanted to go.

We arrived around 7:00 PM on a Tuesday evening to a crammed restaurant. We knew immediately that no restaurant packs out like that if the food isn’t good. After a nice little wait, we got our seat, menus, and bibs. We ordered some Cajun fries heaped with garlic. Ummm, umph! Neither one of us has an aversion to garlic and there was a liberal amount on the fries. You could become addicted those these lovelies quickly.

Lobster Claws, Shrimp, Corn, Andouille Sausage

Lobster Claws, Shrimp, Corn, Andouille Sausage

For the nitty-gritty, my friend ordered two pounds of crab legs in a spicy sauce. These were not cutesy crab legs. They were long and full of meat. I ordered a two-pound bag of lobster claws and shrimp with corn and andouille sausage in a spicier sauce. Seeing other people finishing with lots of sauce in the bottom of their bags, we ordered some bread so that we could sop up ours. There is absolutely no reason for any of that sauce to go to waste.

Ready for Action

Ready for Action

I attribute my interest in going to The Angry Crab to following the restaurant on Instagram. The photos always make the food look inviting. Once you get your teeth into the seafood, those photos don’t do justice. There can never be an argument as to why there is a constant crowd at the restaurant. And with a BYOB policy, you can bring your own libations to go with the “bliss in the bags.” I have had a seafood boil at two restaurants in Chicago now and I love both. The problem is trying to decide which one I’m going to go to this weekend. Arrrggghhhhhh!!!! This is what’s going to happen.

The Angry Crab Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ay Ay Picante

While having dinner with friends at a Peruvian restaurant recently, there was mention of other Peruvian restaurants in the metropolitan Chicago area. One that I remember named in the discussion was Ay Ay Picante at 4569 N. Elston Avenue in Chicago’s Albany Park neighbourhood. Tucked among single family homes, mechanic shops, and fix-em-up shops is this gem of an eatery.

Ay Ay Picante

With only a week having passed since I had been devouring Peruvian food, I chose the path of trying something different from what I had eaten previously. One dish I thought was a good option for a starter was the chupe de camarones. It was a bad idea and it was a good idea. The bad idea was that the soup came as a “deep plate” rather than as a cup of soup. I forgot to read the fine print that said Sopas Grandes and that was my fault. It was a good idea because I could have set up a diving board at the edge of the plate and jumped in. Cooked with a bit of a creamy base, thickened with eggs, and loaded with fat shrimp, I simply took my time before letting the server know I was ready for the next dish. This soup was not to be rushed.

Chupe de Camarones

Chupe de Camarones

A few years ago I went to a Peruvian restaurant in Bucktown and had their huancainas. They were good, so I wanted to see if Ay Ay Picante did them deliciously. Instead of ordering them as potatoes, I ordered them as fried yucca with half of a boiled eggs and black olives on the side. Different is better and having the fried yucca served with the huancaina sauce, different was exceptional. These would be perfect as snacks. Since there were more than a conservative three yucca logs, I savoured this dish slowly.

Huancainas

Huancainas

For the finale, I had sudado de mariscos. This was another large plate. There was a mix of calamari and plump shrimp cooked in white wine with a tomato base. Served with white rice and potatoes, this dish from the north coast of Peru was a true highlight. I prefer seafood in creamy sauces and I will admit that I will make exceptions for Ay Ay Picante. One warning I will give is that this is a dish that you may have to enjoy by itself rather than having any appetizers beforehand or you may have to extend your feast for a few hours like I did. Not only is it very satisfying on the palate, but it is extremely filling.

Sudado de Mariscos

Sudado de Mariscos

Ay Ay Picante appears to be a favourite for many, as there was a steady flow of patrons coming and going. Although they have carry-out, those who came while I was there had proper sit-down meals. Peruvian food is best enjoyed family style, as was evident with parties of several individuals ordering and sharing. The far northwest end of Elston Avenue tends to be more industrial in its look and feel, so great finds like Ay Ay Picante don’t get much press. The trip down Elston to this food heaven is worth it. You may find yourself declaring, “¡Ay, ay, dios mios!

Ay Ay Picante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rickshaw Republic, Starting 2016

Rickshaw Republic

So, here we are at 2016. Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2015 saw warm weather. The very end of the year went from moderate temperatures to icy overnight. That’s Chicago for you. With those temperatures hovering  near single digits, that means my appetite requires more satisfaction. My ongoing New Year’s Eve Resolution is to search for more food. Only two days into 2016 and I find myself in some restaurant experiencing food happiness.

Sate Ayam

Sate Ayam

Rickshaw Republic at 2312 N. Lincoln Avenue became my first new restaurant for the Near Year with international flare. Several years ago, I had gone to an Indonesian restaurant in Rogers Park and it has since closed. There is another restaurant in Lincoln Park that marries Indonesian and Dutch influence. However, I wanted 100% Indonesian, not fusion, not influence, not faux.

Sate Udang

Sate Udang

For one starter, I had sate ayam. This was chicken satay served on wooden skewers. Dipped in a peanut sauce and topped with crushed peanuts along with a small cucumber salad, I was off to a satisfying start. The sate udang, which was huge shrimp cut butterfly style and served on skewers with a ginger sauce and small cucumber salad, I was almost to my happy place.

Beef Rendang, Coconut Rice, String Beans, Corn Fritter

Beef Rendang, Coconut Rice, String Beans, Corn Fritter

At the recommendation of the server, I arrived at my happy place thanks to a plate of beef rendang, coconut rice, spicy string beans, potato and corn fritter, boiled egg, and zucchini and carrot salad. The panang and other gravies were addictive. I figured the string beans and fritter would be pedestrian, but they were anything but bland accompaniments. The curry gravy over the green beans was not overpowering, which allowed for tasting garden fresh beans. The corn fritter would make a perfect morning starter. The winners were the tender beef under panang gravy and the lip-smacking coconut rice.

Wedang Cincau dan Selasih

Wedang Cincau dan Selasih

I realized that I was not going to have any room for dessert, so I opted for something that would not be heavy on my stomach. The main cook, who I believe owns the restaurant, brought a glass of wedang cincau dan selasih to me. If anyone had told me that grass jelly and basil seeds in ginger syrup was a good option, let alone good for digestion, I would have smirked and ordered something else. Nary a drop of alcohol in it, I could easily become addicted to it as if it was spiked.

Rickshaw Republic has been in Chicago’s Lincoln Park for over three years. Since Angin Mamari, the Indonesian restaurant I mentioned earlier close, Rickshaw Republic is indeed the only authentic Indonesian restaurant in metropolitan Chicago. The inside is spacious. The service was outstanding, from the recommendations and the owner even coming out to chat briefly. Rickshaw Republic has another fan: me.

Oh, my realistic New Years Resolution: wait until leaving the restaurant to squeal with satisfaction if the food is really, really, OMG, really delicious.

Rickshaw Republic Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ming Hin Cuisine, Lakeshore East Style

MingHin Cuisine

Rum Runner

Rum Runner

Those who know me are aware that I do not like Chinese food from restaurants. It is disgusting compared to authentic Chinese food prepared by Chinese in their homes. There have been a few moments when I have gone to Chinese restaurants with friends who are immigrants from China. They have been the ones placing orders and the food came with the rich flavours that I recalled from years ago during a visit to China. And I am also reminded of my first roommate’s parents showing us how Chinese food should taste. All it took was having “real” Chinese food for me to become a snob for what’s good in that space.

After a few hours of being in tourist mode downtown, a friend and I passed by Ming Hin Cuisine at 333 E. Benton Place. A quick glance inside and it had become evident that this was not a tourist trap. And hearing all the Chinese spoken inside, my friend and I took a chance. Having devoured a heavy breakfast only a few hours earlier, we were mostly wanting something light, yet mildly filling.

Whole Salt and Pepper Shrimp

Salt and Pepper Shrimp

We started with cocktails and turnip cake. For me, I had a rum runner, which was doctored nicely, hiding much of the rum. My friend had a tropical cocktail that the bartender told her not to drink as if quenching a thirst. The turnip cake was not dessert cake. This dim sum item was prepared with turnip, shredded radish, and bits of  pork. We dipped pieces of the turnip alternately in a thick sauce with a soy sauce base and red chili sauce.

Shrimp in Lobster Sauce

Shrimp in Lobster Sauce

For the main dishes, we ordered salt and pepper shrimp and shrimp in lobster sauce. Fans of shrimp will enjoy the kick from the balanced seasoning of plain salt and pepper and the extra bite of jalapeño peppers along with red and green bell peppers. These shellfish came whole. The shrimp in lobster sauce was also highlight, yet another dish that shrimp fans will find tasty. The sauce is heartier than what I’ve had at Chinese restaurants in the past. It was actually better.

Jasmine Green Tea

Green Tea

There were no off-putting flavours, just great taste. The restaurant has a big box feel. We sat in the bar area, so we got to enjoy the dining experience without unruly children running around. This is the Lake Shore East location. There is a Chinatown location that I believe is crowded constantly, per photos that I have seen on Instagram. The dim sum menu looks extensive, so I am going to chat with one of my friends from Beijing to see if he’s open for trying the location in Chinatown. I think part of why Chinese food does not appeal to me is that you must go with someone who is familiar with the recipes such that they can make recommendations for something other than general chicken, orange chicken, beef with broccoli, and other buffet staples. I am confident that Ming Hin in Chinatown will exceed my expectations, but I will only take that chance with my Chinese friends doing the ordering.

MingHin Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sink, Swim, Eat the Way

Time away does the body good. No Facebook. No need to switch into reactionary mode responding to email. No twitching when the phone rings. Even abroad, it means eating without interruption. Oh, but to see how two weeks of stuffing your jaws seemingly fills in your flattened tummy. It’s back to the gym to work extra hard flattening the tummy again and making the abs pop — while showing some love at the many restaurants in Chicago.

Sink | Swim

In the Southern end of Logan Square is Armitage Avenue. What was once a desert is now undergoing a silent renaissance. A year ago I stumbled upon what has become my favourite Italian restaurant in America. And all within walking distance are other swanky shops, cafes, and restaurants that seem to foster community rather than merely being magnets for crowds. Sink | Swim at 3213 W. Armitage Avenue is one of the new restaurants that caught my eye. Had I not been on foot, I would have passed by it without a second glance. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I did.

Cocktail with Gin Base

Cocktail with Gin

Crushed Cucumber Salad

Crushed Cucumber Salad

Waffling between jet lag and ravenous, I scanned the menu and made a quick decision. And just to be punchy, I ordered with the seasons in mind. I started with a crushed cucumber salad and a cocktail that had a gin base. Expecting the salad to be a small plate, my eyes widened when I saw a rather substantial bowl of sliced cucumbers and seaweed served over creme fraiche. The dressing was not heavy, so I could taste the garden fresh cucumbers. The seaweed reminded me of crispy kale. And the cocktail was a splendid complement, refreshing on the palate without any alcohol being overpowering.

Shrimp Toast

Shrimp Toast

Cocktail with Rum Base

Cocktail with Rum Base

For my second course, I had something that I thought would put me in the mind of summer. There was shrimp toast and a cocktail with a rum base. The shrimp toast looked like dainty little sandwiches. Once you got a bite of the shrimp with radish, aioli, and avocado along with a side of summer greens, what you may think is a small plate is not so small after all. I could have had another order of this dish if I hadn’t opted for a small degustation. I was quite impressed by the two savoury sandwiches. And the cocktail with rum as the main ingredient had me thinking of sunsets and recovering from jet lag properly.

Cocktail with Templeton Rye Base

Cocktail with Templeton Rye Base

Whole Gulf Shrimp

Whole Gulf Shrimp

My third course was what I considered my autumn enticement. There was a large bowl of whole shrimp in a white barbecue sauce with fennel and smoked apples. I initially thought the dish looked cute until I bit down into one of the plump shrimp and immediately became addicted. This was the kind of entrée that one would find on the menu at refined Asian restaurants. By the time I got around to working on the third shrimp, I was talking to my food like I usually do. The autumn cocktail I had with Templeton rye was the coup de grace to finalize my deep sleep for the evening. I will have to check the bar menu because the selections the bartender matched with my meals were spot on.

Smoked Chocolate Cake

Smoked Chocolate Cake

And since I was going all out with the dining experience, I had a finale of French pressed coffee with cream and a smoked chocolate cake. The cake was as cute as a button and as rich and decadent as a super moist brownie. Apparently before retrieving the cake from the oven, the chef allows the cake to get exposed to some smoked wood chips. I like different, but I love deliciously exotic and that is exactly what this cake was. Topped with dulce de leche and sprinkled with a generous amount of crushed hazelnuts, I was rather happy that Sink | Swim is in my neighbourhood within close proximity.

Given I was on the hunt for something to eat, I had read a few reviews of Sink | Swim several weeks prior to my visit. There were complaints about the plates being too small, the smell of the sea in the restaurant, and a few other unsavoury points of contention. I asked my server about the small plates and the recommendation that he gave was that they are to be enjoyed with no more than two individuals because of the portions. Ah, yes, that makes perfect sense. A group of five or more having fits over a dish consisting of three pieces is a bit far-reaching. As to the other conniptions pointed out in reviews, the restaurant must have taken those assessments into consideration because what I experienced was a rather divine meal in a swanky atmosphere with top service. While I sank in my bed, thoughts of the degustation of four courses with the flight of three cocktails swam through my thoughts. And it had also occurred to me that I didn’t have a proper smoke afterwards. Oh, wait, I don’t smoke.

Sink Swim Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Parthenon — Meeting New Friends and Opa!!!

A few weeks ago, I received a flurry of email notes bearing good news and invitations. I found out that Chicago Alphabet Soup had made the list of top 50 blogs in Chicago, which was an honour given this is a hobby and balance to my otherwise chaotic day job life. I received a few emails inquiring if I would be interested in guest writing for a few online publications. Getty Images picked up a few of my photos. And I got an invite to Greek restaurant Parthenon at 314 S. Halsted Street in Chicago’s Greek Town. I thought this would be nice, so that I could put faces with the names of several foodies and food bloggers in the city.

Spanakopitas

Spanakopitas

Octopus

Octopus

Skordalia

Skordalia

Saganaki

Saganaki

We had a variety of appetizers. There were spanakopitas, which were phyllo pastries stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. The octopus was not rubbery to the palate. It was as though the morsels had been cooked slowly for days. My first favourite appetizer was skordalia. Puréed potatoes accented with garlic, and I appreciated that the garlic was heavy-handed in the recipe. And, no, I have no fear of vampires.  My second favourite appetizer to arrive at the table was saganaki. If you think the ritual of setting the cheese aflame and the shout of “Opa!” is spectacular, let me be the first to say that you’ll want to cut through all that fanfare and have the cheese set in front of you so that you can show your appreciation or devout appetite accordingly. The most pedestrian course, as I jokingly call rabbit food, was actually good. The salad dressing, albeit light, was still good enough to let the flavour of the ingredients come through. Lettuce, pepper, olives, feta cheese, and an addiction I call tomatoes were a great segue to the main course.

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

With so much tasty preamble, a dish that I thought would sate me without leaving me needing assistance walking thereafter was shrimp flambé with rice. The shrimp, doused with brandy and set afire to a declaration of “Opa!” before being set in front of me, I felt slightly ashamed at devoting the remainder of my time to devouring the shrimp and enjoying the rice. The best way to get conversation out of me during dinner is before serving any delicious food or by serving something quite not all appetizing.

Shrimp and Rice

Shrimp and Rice

Having indulged so much food to this point, I cannot believe that I opted to renege on my intention for no desserts until Thanksgiving. Being aggressive with my workouts, I ordered galaktoboureko anyway. I am a fan of custard and this Greek delicacy prepared with custard and phyllo and then coated with honey was actually lighter on the stomach than I anticipated. The texture was fluffier than the creamy variety that I have gone overboard on in the past.

Galaktoboureko

Galaktoboureko

Parthenon is large like many banquet halls. There is plenty of space for large gatherings and if you love to dine with family or large parties of your friends, this is definitely the place. There are two Greek restaurants in Oak Park that I frequent because of the quality in the food and service. I can say without hesitation that the quality of food at Parthenon is top. With this being a planned event — that being a gathering of foodies, foodists, bloggers and food appreciators — the service was superb. I shall have to return as a Regular Joe for a proper “off the street” dining experience. I’ll be sure not to shout “Opa!” and smash my plate against the floor.

Parthenon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cohiba Cuban Cuisine, Azuca, Azuca

Cohiba Cuban Cuisine

While wanting to get closer to Montrose Beach along Lake Michigan on Chicago’s North Side for a friend’s gathering, my appetite would not allow me to linger around with a growling belly before the come-together. I was in the Lakeview area in advance and not trying hard to tolerate my hunger pains. As luck, fate, or serendipity would have it, I was standing in front of Cohiba Cuban Cuisine at 2835 N. Broadway Street. Talk about great timing. Talk about being decisive enough to just go in. Talk about channeling my inner Celia Cruz: ¡Azucar!

Cafe Con Leche

Cafe Con Leche

Realizing that I had plenty of time before the mid afternoon, I scanned the menu for something to satisfy my craving. There was a moment of indecisiveness before I said that I would start with a tostones rellenos de camarones, followed by a sopa de pollo. Curious as to what my server would recommend for a main dish, I accepted her suggestion for ropa viejo. And during my wait, I had a cup of cafe con leche. There is definitely an assurance that getting a cafe con leche at any Cuban restaurant or cafe may be the best option you exercise for the day, the cafe con leche at Cohiba being the one option of the day that I think made my day bright.

Tostones Rellenos de Camarones

Tostones Rellenos de Camarones

Sopa de Pollo

Sopa de Pollo

Seeing that the tostones rellenos de camarones was on the appetizer list, I thought that it was going to be small. It was rather substantial and an automatic favourite by the first bite. This was a green plantain stuffed with shrimp prepared in a tasty tomato sauce. Not peppery, but spicy nonetheless, I devoured as much as possible, while saving room for the sopa de pollo. This was the first moment that I mumbled ¡Azucar! under my breath. Filled with tender chicken, peppers, and miniature noodles, and with a chewy roll that was also ideal for sopping, I was quite pleased at having ordered this menu item.

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

Requiring some time before indulging the main dish, the server waited accordingly before bringing me a traditional Cuban dish that I usually order as a sandwich. The flavour of the shredded beef in a tomato base was mild, but it still was inviting enough that I refused to leave any. This was served with savoury black beans, sweet plantains, and rice. Thankful that the large party sitting not far from me was fully engaged in animated conversation, I was glad they did not hear me singing “Guantanamera” by Celia Cruz and mouthing ¡Azucar! Needless to say, these old clothes I liked a lot.

Flan de Vanilla

Flan de Vanilla

Now I was proper fed, but I was not yet finished. Per my server’s second recommendation, I had traditional flan de vanilla. Accompanied by another cafe con leche, I don’t know how I managed to walk upright after I was done. This was not some flan from the frozen section at a local market. I appreciated the caramel not being excessively sugary. And the flan had the texture of creamy quesillos. Also, having eaten so much already, the flan was just right for me being able to finish all without struggling.

Cohiba Cuban Cuisine is a medium sized restaurant with an “at home” atmosphere that I love. I went during late morning/early afternoon before the crowd began coming. Lucky for me because I got to not only enjoy the meal, but to at least get recommendations and even chat about Cuban food without there being any rush. There are a few Cuban restaurants I have gone to in Chicago and several that I will have to try in good time. But this was the first time that I couldn’t suppress my inner Celia Cruz. ¡Azucar!.

Cohiba Cuban Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Luella’s Southern Kitchen, Took Me Back to Mississippi

Luella's Southern Kitchen

A few weeks ago, I went back to Jackson, MS, to see family. I had not even dropped my luggage off before I wanted to make a pit stop by the farmers market. Knowing that I would be cooking and baking, I wanted to get some white corn on the cob, lima beans, cranberry peas, collard greens, squash and a few other vegetables. I also wanted to get some peaches for baking a peach cobbler to go with homemade ice cream. For as much as I am a city rat, there will always be the need for indulging some good food from Mississippi that has not been messed up with growth products, additives, and who knows what else.

Sweet Tea

Sweet Tea

Having returned from hot and humid Jackson to muggy Chicago, I was strolling through Lincoln Square when it had become apparent that my stomach wasn’t rumbling. It was roaring. And to my blissful surprise, I happen to find myself standing outside Luella’s Southern Kitchen at 4609 N. Lincoln Avenue. Being that I think about eating constantly, I was curious as to whether this was one of those restaurants trying to make an attempt at Southern comfort food. So, I entered and was greeted with a Southern hello. That was all the indication I needed to know that they were not simply passing off Southern cooking as a fad.

Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits

Seeing that September came in feeling like July and August, I needed something to cool off. A jar of sweet tea was what I needed to hit the spot. Not getting just plain sweet tea, I had it accented with figs. Either I was incredibly thirsty or this tea was divine.

Now, although I had a severe hankering, I did not want to go overboard. I ordered something that I never, ever, ever had a desire to eat as a child. I had shrimp and grits. I love shrimp like a baby loves a bottle. But grits were absolutely disgusting to me. Unlike the sticky grits of my youth, these were cheesy grits that didn’t congeal. My grandmother is looking down now saying, “You wait to get old to start enjoying Southern table food.” I appreciate the fact that the shrimp and grits were not prepared ala white table-cloth gourmet style.

For a finale, I ordered something to take me down to New Orleans. I had to get some beignets. The beauty of the beignets was not that they were so blooming good, but that they came to the table right out of the fryer. There will never be an argument that you can get beignets outside of New Orleans that are worth getting confectioners sugar on your face. The beignets from Luella’s Southern Kitchen were worth it. And with another jar of sweet tea, I can honestly say that this is where I will return for Southern cooking.

Beignets

Beignets

There are plenty seats in Luella’s Southern Kitchen. There is no alcohol on the menu, not that I could see. Coming from Mississippi, I can vouch for the food being authentic in flavor. I must say that a winning tactic I noticed was that the staff actually engaged the diners. The food was already top, so winning patrons over with hospitality is indeed a winner. When I found out that they were from Greenville, MS, it was as if I had gone to my parents’ home. And Luella’s Southern Kitchen will also be like going home.

Luella's Southern Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato