Altiro Roscoe Village, Suburbs Come to the City

Altiro Latin Fusion Roscoe Village

Ala Florinda

Ala Florinda

In 2014, I went to Altiro Latin Fusion in Geneva, Illinois, at the recommendation of a good friend. At the time it seemed that tacos prepared in exotic fashion were becoming the rage. The visit to that Altiro was the first time I had exotic tacos done right, it seemed. I joked with the owner that they should open a location  in Chicago proper in Logan Square. Well, I never thought a suggestion given in jest would be taken seriously. Instead of Logan Square, an Altiro Latin Fusion is now in Roscoe Village at 2116 W. Roscoe Street, a quick ride from Logan Square.

I got in contact with my friend who introduced me to the Altiro Geneva offerings to see if he was game for trying out the Roscoe Village location. Being sure to arrive well in advance of the dinner crowd, we had a seat, he starting with a Modelo Dos Equis, and me whetting my palate with an Al Florinda. The concoction of hibiscus with bourbon, orange liqueur, orange juice, lime juice and chili de Arbol definitely had me off the a good start.

Al Elotito

Al Elotito

One tapas dish that I enjoyed at the Geneva location and an all-time Mexican favourite is elote. The Al Elitito was not the usual corn on the cob, but was off the cob prepared with garlic aioli, serrano pepper, fresh epazote, onions, cotija cheese, and chile piquin. This may be some of the most addictive corn you will ever devour.

Ala Papa Brava

Ala Papa Brava

Something different we ordered was Ala Papa Brava. This came as several potato logs, topped with an egg sunny side up and dollops of aioli and poblano sauces. Of all of the Spanish tapas restaurants I’ve gone to that serves papas bravas, Altiro Roscoe Village is in control of setting the bar.

Al Fundido

Al Fundido

Altiro is outstanding when it comes to tacos and this is another area where they’ve set the bar high  — for me, that is. We ordered the Al Fundido, which were tacos prepared with sautéed garlic shrimp, Chihuahua cheese, cilantro-lime oil, and escabeche red onions. It is easy to forget about ordering tacos with shredded beef, ground beef, pork, or chicken after having it with delectable, plump shrimp ala Al Fundido.

Al Poblano

Al Poblano

In preparation for the final main dish, my friend had another beer and I ordered an Al Pepiño. When I said I wanted a spicy drink, the recipe of muddled cucumber, cilantro, jalapeno infused vodka, fresh lime, and agave nectar was sent from the gods, not the bartender. And with the Al Poblano of tender chicken breast over rice in a poblano sauce and accented with pomegranate seeds, my friend and I were too immersed in working the tortillas to scoop the dish that we hadn’t noticed the Damiens and Rhodas having a run of the restaurant.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

After having stuffed ourselves to near food comatose, we waited before having their version of tiramisu. Move over Italian restaurants because you have competition. There were the usual ingredients, but there wasn’t the espresso and usual dusting of cocoa powder on top. There was Rumchata. People who say bacon goes great with everything will promptly start saying Rumchata is considerably better with everything after they have some of this tiramisu.

Al Pepiño

Al Pepiño

I remember the service being about 50 miles past exceptional at the Altiro Geneva location. The Roscoe Village has been open for less than a full year and they’re already well down the stretch with top service. Sending something from the kitchen that is not appetizing clearly is not a part of their formula. Not one item have I had that I did not want to eat to excess after the first bite. Although I have to go only a few miles to Roscoe Village for a feast of their good food, I’m okay with that. I’m just glad I don’t have to ride the train all the way out to Geneva.

Altiro Latin Fusion Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

When friends come to visit Chicago, I often wonder where to take them for a proper Taste of Chicago. Many come with expectations of going to the usual tourist traps: Cheesecake Factory, any of the Chicago style pizzeria restaurants, some sports bar in Wrigleyville, Garrett’s Popcorn shop, and a few other dated restaurants like Hard Rock Café and Planet Rock. But you can get that fare from anywhere. Then again, I pick restaurants from a self-serving standpoint. If I’m treating, I’m getting what I want. With my recent guest, they did not want to go to any tourist magnets. They wanted international fare was.

Tej Addis Abeba Martini

After an afternoon of taking advantage of Shedd Aquarium, I offered up the suggestion for some Ethiopian food. So, we were off to Demera Ethiopian Restaurant at 4801 N Broadway Street. Nice and spacious on the inside, welcoming and homey per the service, this was a great option. We started with a glass of tej, which is honey wine, or rather the nectar of God. And there was the refreshing Addis Ababa martini.

Ethiopian Platter

Because this was my first dining experience at Demera Ethiopian Restaurant, I wanted to sample a few items from the menu. We had the doro wot. This came as two chicken legs in a rich barbecue gravy accented with ginger root, garlic, and onions and ayib cheese. There was ye-siga wot, which was the beef version of the doro wot. For vegetables, we ordered the split red lentils ye-misir wot and there was also the ye-dinich ena carrot alicha, consisting of potatoes and carrots stewed with onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric and special house seasoning. The ye-shimbra assa, ground chickpeas in a wot sauce, rounded out our vegetarian selections. And the ye-asa wot was the final offering that we opted for as a seafood selection. All served atop injera and with extra injera, there was only a smear of gravy on the platter when we were done.

Ethiopian Tiramisu

Not being in a rush, we sat and let our stomachs settle before requesting menus for perusal of desserts.  I ordered an Ethiopian style tiramisu. Instead of ladyfingers having been soaked in espresso, they had been soaked in Ethiopian buna, or Ethiopian coffee. The robust flavor of Ethiopian coffee actually makes the dessert have a stronger taste while not leaving an aftertaste. Drizzled with chocolate sauce, this was heaven. And if heaven wasn’t good enough, the sambussa definitely was perfection. The pastry was filled with with almonds, walnuts, cardamom, rose water, and saffron, and served over a homemade raspberry sauce that was not from a can, box, or jar.

Sambussa

Chicago’s Uptown neighbourhood is a location filled with many African restaurants and there is a lot of representation in Ethiopian dining. Demera is indeed one restaurant with an inviting atmosphere. Starting with a welcoming air, it is most delightful once the food arrives. For those who are not familiar with Ethiopian dining, the injera, which is the bread, is used for picking up the food. While the servers may accommodate those who prefer to use eating utensils,  the tradition way of eating Ethiopian food actually makes the experience fantastic. And if you go with a large group, it is a most beautiful way of sharing — food that is.


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Revisiting Caffe De Luca

Caffe de Luca

After a beautiful Saturday with a sky devoid of clouds and temperatures in the 70′s, Sunday began with overcast skies, temperatures in the 50′s, and a constant breeze. The only good thing about the rain is that it probably washed away a bit of the pollen that had been in the air. Nothing can be more aggravating than the feeling of having pepper in your eyes. But, hey, that does nothing to my insatiable appetite. In my blue Jetta that had a bit of a green colouring to it from a light powdering of pollen, I was on my way in search of food. And once I realized how irritating it is to find parking in Chicago proper, I drove out to the neighbouring suburb of Forest Park. Plenty of options available and me being decisive, I walked into Caffe De Luca at 7427 Madison Street.

Broccoli and Cheese Quiche and Fruit

Broccoli and Cheese Quiche and Fruit

I recalled Caffe De Luca when there was the location in Wicker Park. I had gone on my first visit one New Year’s Eve when I wanted to have dinner without entertaining a lot of friends being scrambled about where to dine, when to gather, what to wear in case we were going to a New Year’s Eve party afterwards, and why the restaurant had to be in Wicker Park. I went alone and was a hundred miles past the last exit to Overjoyed when all was said and done. The Forest Park location has the same rustic feel and layout, which were least of my culinary concerns. It were the flavours of Italy I was hoping to relive.

Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus Salad

Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus Salad

Now, because I went during brunch time, I knew I was not going to have spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, pasta, or any of that. No, I started with a broccoli and cheddar quiche and a mixed fruit of honeydew melon, grapes, cantaloupe, and pineapples. The quiche was fluffy. Last time I had a quiche that fluffy was at Eastgate Cafe in Hyde Park, where the owner had explained that she preferred an airy quiche to a dense one. After finishing the quiche and fruit, I then had grilled shrimp and asparagus salad. This salad could be within the top 5 pescatarian delights. Worthy of each bite, I devoured it as reasonably slowly as possible to keep from looking like a man who hadn’t eaten in several days.

The brunch was very satisfying and the price was fantastic. I shall have to return for dinner one evening to see if I can recapture the sensation I experienced during my visit to Caffe De Luca in Wicker Park. Caffe De Luca in Wicker Park is no longer on the Wicker Park landscape, so I shall remove my first post. However, here are the compositions that I captured when I went. Sigh. I miss having Caffe De Luca so close to home.

Bread, Wafers, Chianti

Bread, Wafers, Chianti

Grilled Calamari

Grilled Calamari

Tortellechi Carbonara, Chianti

Tortellechi Carbonara, Chianti

Tortellechi Carbonara

Tortellechi Carbonara

Espresso with Honey

Espresso with Honey

Tiramisu, Coffee

Tiramisu, Coffee

Caffe de Luca on Urbanspoon

I’m So Lucky

Club Lucky

Facebook has proven to be a great avenue for advertising. If you like a person, place, or thing — a not just a catch-all noun — you may find a posting on your wall that will raise your antennae. During one of the hot spells Chicago was experiencing, there was an advertisement from a restaurant that I had gone to for brunch a year ago. There was a set of martinis, all looking so refreshing, so inviting, so in need of being imbibed. Me not being a prude quickly blocked my calendar and prompted one of my friends to let her know that I was going to Club Lucky at 1824 W. Wabansia Avenue in Chicago’s Wicker Park for some liquid happiness. Not immediately off the main Milwaukee-North-Damen intersection where there is constant energy all around the clock, but rather down the street in the midst of a residential area, there were outdoor seating to be had, martinis to be turned up, and food to be devoured.

Italian BreadAll aboard the Blue Line, which is one of the busiest train lines in the city due to its run out to O’Hare Airport and through trendy neighbourhoods Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Logan Square. My friend and I squeezed on at the Clark and Lake subway stop with a host of suits, ties, skater boys, gothic chicks, and growling bellies. It was off to Club Lucky to see if those drinks they make on site had the same appeal as the ones in their Facebook advertisement. With a basket of warm homemade bread at our disposal and the setting sun allowing a bit of a cool breeze to blow about, instead of the muggy heat we had been having, we ordered a lemon drop martini apiece.

Insert sound byte of a spring popping.

Those martinis were loaded. Well, actually, they were not. The bartender had prepared them such that the lemony accent took centre stage, which allowed the vodka to creep up on us. When my friend started smiling excessively, I knew that she had started hovering just about an inch or two above ground. We then decided that it was better to savour the martinis and gobble more bread and drink more water, lest we stumble about like the trashy students at Oxford on Thursday nights.

Lemondrop MartiniHaving gone for brunch, I was already aware that Club Lucky has a way in the kitchen that results in something incredibly tasty coming to the table. The thing is you can never really judge dinner fare by breakfast or brunch. Yes, I have gone to a few restaurants where the brunch menus were, as the current hip-hop generation says, off the chain. The dinner servings were worthy for the floor, I must say. But you cannot go wrong with Italian dinners unless the chef is mixing some Chef-Boy-Ardee into the recipes. Seeing that Club Lucky is not rustic, in that they are heavy on red and cream sauces, we chose our orders — my friend based on a recommendation from the waiter and me knowing what I wanted. And we sat and waited while our orders were prepared. More bread to the table and more water poured into our glasses, we waited more, which gave us the feeling that nothing was heated quickly, styled on plates, and rushed to the tables. Happiness abounded.

Chicken and Herb Totellini

My dining companion ordered chicken and herb tortellini. These chicken and herb filled tortellinis with English peas and pine nuts in homemade vodka sauce were like sirens. They sang, begged, and lured us with each bite. Granted there were no rocks for us to smash against, but we literally were crashing against virtual stones, splashing about, and smiling foolish smiles all the same. The creamy vodka sauce, although not potent enough to make us drunk, was a nice complement to the heavy-laden martinis that kept raising us out of our seats a few inches per swallow. But the last time I had tortellinis in a creamy vodka sauce worthy of raving about was at a certain Italian restaurant in Lincoln Square that another friend and I had gone to for celebration when we both had moved away from an apartment complex on the South Side that had been taken over with drugs, prostitution, and gun play. Just like that the Lincoln Square restaurant, the preparation at Club Lucky added a bloom to the taste, as the spices worked together to give a pop to the dish.

Shrimp Arrabiata

Being a lover of spicy food, I ordered a shrimp arrabiata. Thinking that the chicken and herb tortellinis were a great hit, the arrabiata was worth standing on the table and dancing. Perhaps standing on the table, and me not being a stunt man, would not be the best thing to do. Clapping my hand, stomping my feet, singing a song, or even throwing the plate on the ground — after I had finished all of the arrabiata — would be a better option. Plump shrimp that exploded with flavour and al dente pasta under a tangy and spicy red tomato sauce were all that I needed on this particular evening of cicadas making noise in the background, a beautiful sunset, great company, and yet another martini that by now had me flying across the sky in an invisible jet. Oh, and not that it really matters, but cilantro goes with everything. Added as an accent to the arrabiata, I made a mental note again to carve a wooden hand for clapping anyone across the cheeks who boasts that they prepare the best arrabiata in the world. Clearly, they have not been to Club Lucky and had their dishes.

Cappuccino

By the time we had completed our pasta dishes, several more baskets of bread, and our martinis, we opted to sit for a while before indulging coffee and dessert. It was clear that while Club Lucky does not have an Italian nomenclature in it moniker, what comes from the kitchen is very much representative of Italy in a genuine sense. So, we felt comfortable with our dessert orders, albeit pedestrian. Cappuccino is rather standard coffee fare on menus at any restaurant you go to and instead of ordering espresso to completely wreck our martini high, it was cappuccino for us. Nothing fancy, nothing special, it was perfect and we drank ours sans sugar. Yes, you know you have a good cup of cappuccino in front of you when you do not need any sweeteners.

Apple Pie Ala Mode

One dessert we had eaten was apple pie with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Again, nothing spectacular, but certainly not a dessert from the frozen food section at the local market. There were chunks of apples in their natural sauces, not in a compost, which was another indication that the pie did not come from a bakery. I know that may sound like a purist statement, but when the sauce is a jelly, you have a compost from a can. That was not the case at Club Lucky. Okay, so the ice cream was not gelato and it no doubt was a scoop of Breyer’s, the main dessert was the star. But you could almost hear the pie singing to us, “You don’t have to be a star to be in my show.” And then there was the tiramisu. One bite and there was indecisiveness. There was breathlessness. There was a need to fight the urge to moan. Whoever the little Italian woman was in the kitchen who soaked the ladyfingers in rum and whipped up the mascarpone cheese and concocted such an awesome dessert deserves to have her feet washed. I have seen people get the Holy Spirit in church and I wanted to do my dance while feasting on the tiramisu.

Tiramisu

By the end of the evening, my friend and I waddled a few blocks away and teetered into a boutique grocery store where I purchased a bottle of wine for later dinners. As to our experience at Club Lucky, anyone with an insatiable appetite and an appreciation for exquisite Italian dining would do well to get his or feet under a table and get sated. Had it not been for the Facebook advertisement of the martinis, which were a blast, who knows what restaurant I would have been at? After an evening of super service, fantastic food, and smile-inducing prices, the only thing that comes to mind is oh how lucky I am to be able to enjoy such bliss.

Rogers Park, Roots, Reminiscing

In my life, I have a fair amount of precious memories — my first day of school, my first kiss, my first crush, graduations, my first college internship, my most hurtful and disappointing relationship, moving away from home after college, countless trips abroad, watching the most beautiful sunsets from Table Mountain in South Africa, my first North Side flat in Chicago, my decision to practice narcissism, numerous bad situations I walked away from, my first authentic ethnic dining experience, the first time saying “No” and not regretting it, and starting Chicago Alphabet Soup. This weekend was one that I found myself in a continuous state of reminiscing. There was a draw to my old neighbourhood in Chicago, the area known as Rogers Park. I had the most fantastic one-bedroom flat with hardwood floors, easy access to the elevated train, close proximity to plenty of fun and happening locales, and colourful neighbours that kept me in constant laughter. There was the pick of Ma-and-Pop restaurants that never failed to satisfy my appetite. So after a moment of deliberation, I decided that I would go back to see how things had changed since I was last in Rogers Park visiting — which was only five months past.

Shrimp Scampi

One restaurant that still has a draw is Leona’s Italian restaurant at 6935 N. Sheridan Road. Leona’s is a Chicago staple chain restaurant. I have been to several other locations, but there is something about the Rogers Park location on Sheridan Road that keeps me coming back. It could be that this was the first location where I got introduced to Leona’s fine Italian-American cuisine. It could be that the food is always top — always-good garlic bread, tasty ravioli, delicious lasagna, delectable fettucine, awesome pizzas, and a long list of other culinary delights that keeps one’s lips smacking. And once I found myself walking through the door to enter, I knew that I had made a fine decision to return to my manufactured roots that I had set up in Rogers Park.

Bread and Butter

For this Sunday afternoon, the restaurant was not as congested as it has been in my days past. Then again, Chicago had a recent cold spell along with snow and the temperatures had warmed considerably. People were probably outside enjoying the moderate chilly temperatures instead of being inside avoiding Arctic blasts. That was just fine with me, as I had my pick of seats. Not being conspicuous about what I was going to do while eating, I told the host that I was going to photograph my food, so I got a window seat. Since I had not eaten any breakfast, I was incredibly ravenous. That meant I had the propensity to order way more than I could tackle. But I forced myself to temper my ridiculous craving. As much as I love to overeat, the hours thereafter are sometimes very uncomfortable.

Five Cheeses Lasagne

I started with a Cesar salad and a complementary loaf of Italian bread. One thing that I must admit is that I have never had a Cesar salad with sun-dried tomatoes on it. Talk about improvising. It was delicious, but I had an initial shock of “something having changed” rather than “this is a different take on Cesar salad.” I smiled with every bite, nevertheless. As to the bread, the loaf was warm, dusted with Parmesan cheese, and served with honey butter. Satisfying. Gratifying. Food bliss. And then came the shrimp scampi that I had ordered. This scampi was not loaded with garlic the way scampi dishes are. A moderate amount of garlic, fresh tomatoes, and plump shrimp made for a wonderful appetizer dish. And I was good not to take any of the bread and sop the remaining scampi. I had eaten all of the bread anyway, so there was none to use to wipe down the bowl of scampi.

Tirimasu

What I have always loved from Leona’s menu was the lasagna. If I did not order lasagna for dining in, I would order some for take-away. Today I had decided that I would enjoy some of the dish and in the smaller portion rather than trying to be bold. I ordered the five-cheese lasagna with marinara sauce. Oh was I a happy man. The smaller portion was still filling. Then again, it may have been from me gobbling the loaf of bread, the entire Cesar salad, and the shrimp scampi before the lasagna came to the table. This entrée was definitely more than I had expected, although I ordered it with moderation in mind. I spaced the entrée and dessert so that I could enjoy the dessert to completion. The dessert menu was full of items that have nuts in them. Not being a fan of pecans or walnuts, I opted for the common Italian dessert of tiramisu. Stacked high and about as large as the small-portion lasagna, I was in Italian heaven as I slowly worked over the tiramisu with a cup of coffee.

Leona's Restaurant

Now I will admit that Leona’s seems to have a habit of serving too much food. Chances are you will eat until your eyes bulge and your belly swells, only to request a take-away box for what you do not finish eating. You receive more than what you pay for in the end. For me, there are times when I find myself saying, Leona’s, your good loving deserves and encore, and I am back at the restaurant with heavy anticipation of gnashing away at something perfectly flavourful from the menu. Moments like today leave me wishing that I was living in Rogers Park again, enjoying the surroundings and amenities. But I can take the bus, the elevated train, or drive back to my old familiar neighbourhood when I want to recapture my earlier days of living in Chicago. What would we do without precious memories?

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