Porto’s Peri-Peri, Portuguese Skokie

For the past two months, I have been delaying my evening commute from the West Suburbs back to Chicago proper by spending a few hours at the gym. Finding something with international appeal to satisfy my hunger after heavy weights and cardio has not been as easy as I thought. I have, however, driven past a peri-peri restaurant named Porto’s Peri Peri tucked in a strip mall. And while looking up the restaurant on Google to get some information on menu and hours of operation, I found that there is also a location in Skokie, Illinois, at 4915 Oakton Street.

Peri Chips

Peri Chips

What looks like a small storefront restaurant is a nice area for small groups and solo diners. There is a fast casual aspect to the experience. You order at the counter and the food is brought to your table. For those who have gone to Nando’s Peri-Peri, it’s the same concept right down to the menu options.

Grilled Corn on the Cob

Grilled Corn on the Cob

Since I was ravenous during the visit to Porto’s Peri Peri, I was very much aggressive with my ordering. I ordered some peri chips, which were small waffle potato chips that had been dusted with peri salt. Having not had potato chips for several years, these were a bit more appetizing than they probably would have been had I been eating potato chips all along.

Red Skin Potato Salad

Red Skin Potato Salad

The peri chicken is the best. I had two legs and two thighs in the hot sauce. Not overpowering, given I love everything peppery, the chicken was tender and extremely juicy. Most chicken as juicy as what’s served at Porto’ Peri-Peri would not be done thoroughly, but that was not the case here. With a side of red skin potato salad, grilled corn on the cob, perimayo corn, and yellow rice, the meal was complete.

Quarter Chicken and Rice

Quarter Chicken and Rice

The potato salad is of the mayonnaise variety and since I prefer my potato salad with a mustard base, I must admit that Porto’s Peri-Peri has made me a fan of the potato salad. The grilled corn had a spicy rub and reminded me of sweet corn that I’ve had from farmers’ markets. The perimayo corn reminded me of Mexican elotes in terms of visual and in flavor. The yellow rice put me in mind of Indian basmati rice.

Perimayo Corn

Perimayo Corn

Having been to Portugal quite a bit, I have not been to any restaurants that have the flare of Nando’s Peri-Peri or Porto’s Peri Peri. Then again, I was visiting friends and they were gracious hosts with loving from their own kitchens. There are several peri-peri restaurants that are making their presences known in Metropolitan Chicago and if they are representative of kitchen delights from Portugal, I will get in enough samplings here so that I will know what to order next time I return to Portugal. Porto’s Peri-Peri in Skokie is a stop that I recommend. And if you happen to be in the West Suburbs, stop in at the Villa Park, Illinois, location at 100 E. Roosevelt Road. Saboroso (Portuguese for delicious).

Armenian, Siunik and Oberweis — Oh, Be Wise

Note: Suinik Armenian Grill has moved to 1707 Chestnut Avenue in Glenview, Illinois.

Last year there were some weekends that had such great weather that I took advantage of riding my bicycle through several neighbourhoods without succumbing to dehydration. The fun thing with the bike rides was going down side streets and happening upon various little hidden coves of cafés and boutiques. When driving and when riding public transit, you see everything from the main road. Hidden gems down residential streets and around corners never pass the eyes such that you register their presence. I missed those discoveries. And earlier this year, I found Skokie, Illinois, to have several points of interest that no one brings to life in discussion. One spot that jumped out at me when I had gone to Skokie for Afghani and then again for Jamaican food was a certain Armenian grill.

Siunik

Siunik Armenian Grill has a bit of that Chipotle “thing” going. But the authenticity in the flavouring of the food will soon make you forget that Chipotle exists. At 4639 Oakton Street in Skokie, Siunik Armenian Grill serves up some “real” Armenian tastes. All the other Armenians who continuously poured in will co-sign on that observation. I had a chicken kebab plate. The spiced chicken looked as though it could have been dry but when you bit down into each piece and it exploded with juice, I gave up on judging books by their covers. And the couscous with mushrooms puts the generic couscous that Middle Eastern fast food eateries serve to shame. There must be a marinade to the mushrooms because it was not merely a case of biting into something with texture. It was all about sinking teeth into a recipe that had been prepared to tradition. The two pedestrian items that I had were cabbage salad and bread. The cabbage salad reminded me of slaw without the mayonnaise – and I was happy all the same without it. But then there was the hummus. Again, this was not a menu item that was simply added to the bill of fare because everyone is serving hummus. Even after having skimmed the paprika and cilantro off the top with a scoop of the bread, there was so much bloom in the recipe that I ordered some to go.

Armenian Chicken Plate

Armenian Chicken Plate

When I was all done, I headed North into Skokie in search of some ice cream. In the Chicago metropolitan area, ice cream parlours are generally taken over by teenagers and tweens who giggle and embed the word “like” between every other word they use in sentences. And that’s before, during, and after ordering their ice cream. Yet I still burn for some creamy treats on occasion and I endure the torture of giggling, indecisiveness, and excessive use of “like.” What should be nearby but an Oberweis creamery at 4811 Dempster Street. It had to have been divine because the ice cream parlour was absent of the giggle-like nightmare. I ordered a fudge sundae with cookies and cream and espresso cappuccino for my two scoops. I was so very, very, incredibly, magnificently, stupendously happy. I guess it goes without saying that I was also bordering on food comatose.

Double Scoop Sundae

Double Scoop Sundae

Much like sections of Chicago proper, immediate neighbouring suburbs also have a few locations that go unnoticed. It takes a casual drive or a long stroll through some areas to find these areas where tradition meets culinary delights. It very well could be that tourism is not the target import and so there is no advertisement to draw larger crowds to these gems. However, you do find those representative of the ethnicities present and that is always an indication that the restaurants reflect the “old country” proper. I have passed by several locations that flashed by my peripheral and have considered returning for longer gazes to see what would tempt the palate. Had I not done just that this past weekend, I never would have had some of the most delicious Armenian.

Siunik Armenian Grill on Urbanspoon Siunik Armenian Grill on Foodio54

From Russia With Food — Zhivago


ZhivagoDon’t go without taking a Russian with you.
They know Russians when they see them.
You’ll want to order authentic Russian.

This was advice given to me by an old Russian co-worker. Yes, I am sure it would be hard to confuse a West Indian man for a Russian. Were the cooks going to fatten up my friend and me like the woman in the gingerbread house did to Hansel and Gretel? Was someone going to find out that I was once a double agent? It would have been all over but the “uh, oh” if someone had discovered that I was a danger boy in my days of youth, disguised as a nerdy scientist by day, blackmailing people in political and public offices by night. How else could I afford such an extravagant lifestyle and still have enough money in my pocket to get cheese on my whopper?

My friend and I ventured into Russian territory without any Russians in tow. It was not as though we were going to a restaurant with non-Russian staff fronting as hosts, hostesses, cooks, waiters, and waitresses. Guess what. Our waitress was Russian. Zhivago Restaurant at 9925 Gross Point Road in Skokie, IL, was the spot for our fattening experience. This restaurant doubles as a banquet hall and after my friend and I walked the labyrinth of halls and rooms to get to our seats, it was quite apparent that the restaurant and banquet hall do it up big.

AppetizersCustomary in Russian dining experiences, you partake of some good Russian vodka. My friend and I opted to drink something different. He chose a Russian beer and one look at the bottle was enough to have the church woman saying, “Now, that’s a beer,” while licking her lips and beckoning a waiter so that she can order one for herself. I ordered a glass of Lindeman’s Shiraz. We downed our individual drinks while snacking on complementary whole grain and rye bread served up with butter as well as pâté. Knowing that the complementary goodies were not going to be enough, we ordered Caspian smoked sturgeon and schmaltz herring. The sturgeon was cold smoked with an old world blend of hickory, mesquite, and oak, served with crème fraiche, Spanish capers, and scallions. Sliced thinly, it tasted somewhat like cured ham. Insert declarative expletive — it was delicious. The schmaltz herring were chilled slices of marinated herring served with onions and boiled dill potatoes. While eating this, the taste that came to mind was that of sardines, but just meatier.

Entrees

We also had borscht. Borscht is a beet soup and I remember my grandmother cooking beets and putting them on my plate when I was a child. I would fall out of my chair and pound the floor while kicking my feet angrily. Oh, wait. I was not a brat like that. I just asked for rutabaga with some broth and crumbled cornbread instead. At any rate, the borscht came out as bowls of beets, cucumbers, and beet juice. My friend and I did not fall on the floor and act like brats. The first few sips were something new, but it got tastier thereafter. I’m sure my grandmother was saying, “Now, you wait until you get old to eat beets.”

DessertsFor round two, we ordered Siberian pelmeni and a plate of stuffed pepper and cabbage. We thought about ordering chicken Kiev and beef stroganoff, but tried something different. Whenever I think of beef stroganoff, Hungry Jack frozen dinners come to mind and that is enough to kill an appetite. The Siberian pelmeni was a huge plate of pasta dumplings stuffed with seasoned ground meat, nestled in melted butter. It even came with a glass of sour cream for dipping and shredded, fried sweet potatoes. Because the dumplings were bite size, they were rather deceiving. Those things were filling, but my friend and I don’t eat like fashion models. We took care of business. The stuffed pepper and cabbage was a plate of ground chicken meat, carrots, sautéed onions, and rice topped with tomato sauce. The bell pepper was cooked just right, not the least bit of crunch to it. The stuffed cabbage sat on the plate for a good minute — now you see it, now you don’t.


Interior DecorWhile all the food we had eaten up to this point was filling, there still was some room in the bellies for some extra good stuff. Bring on the dessert. We ordered one spartak and one tarfuto. The spartak was unnecessarily good, even though it had walnuts in it. I am not a big fan of walnuts. However, the layers of genuine Genoise with cream filling served with chocolate and a raspberry sauce more than compensated for the “extra” ingredient. The tarfuto was just the ridiculously delicious dessert consisting of good quality chocolate ice cream, orange marmalade, coffee ice cream, Irish Cream liqueur, chocolate cookie crumb, and raspberries. I pity people who feel the need to be dainty when it comes down to good food. Granted my friend and I were not like drunk fraternity boys salivating over the delivery of a keg of beer, we were like kids in a candy store.

The service was outstanding. The food was out of this world. The bill was high. Then again, that may have been because of so much food and beverage. There are other items on the menu that we would like to sample, which means that we will definitely go back for the great service, damn good food, and just pay yet another high price for total satisfaction. I think I may need to find a few politicians and public figures to extort so that I don’t have to bother dipping into my savings to get money for another Russian adventure at Zhivago. I wonder who I should start with first. While I ponder that thought, think about going to Zhivago and falling in love with some good food.

Zhivago Restaurant & Banquets on Urbanspoon