Cafe Orchid, All Things Turkish

Cafe Orchid

Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines are quite common in Chicago. You can easily find a restaurant that has hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouli, and kebab on the menu. However, it is rare that anyone can name a specific country associated with the restaurant. There is then this Pan-Mediterranean or Pan-Middle Eastern dynamic that makes the restaurant or cafe catch-all. And then there are restaurants like Cafe Orchid at 1746 W. Addison Street in the west end of Lakeview. This restaurant clearly indicates that they serve Turkish dishes and given the authenticity and worthy flavours, they have boasting rights.

Patican Salata

Patican Salada

I decided on a 5-course degustation for lunch. First, to quench my thirst, I had a glass of iced Turkish tea that I took without any sweeteners. The first course was patican salada, which was eggplant with red peppers, tomatoes, and garlic. There was a basket of Turkish bread that accompanied the dish. I used the bread as a utensil to devour the eggplant salad and then finished the dish by going around the plate sopping up the remaining gravy.

Cig Borek

Cig Borek

The second course was cig borek. This was a traditional meat pie that had been prepared with ground lamb and spices.  Unlike cig borek that I have had at other Turkish restaurants, the lamb had been patted together such that it had the consistency of a sausage. This meant the meat was not falling out of the pastry and that was good because I got to enjoy all of the meat pie. The accompanying yogurt was good for dipping, but I used it over the lettuce and tomato instead, thus having meat pie and salad.

Icli Kofte

Icli Kofte

The third dish, icli kofte, were bulgur koftah tear drops stuffed with minced ground beef and onions. Although this is not considered snack food, I would enjoy these delectable items from a cardboard container without complaint while strolling down the avenue. The recipe resulted in a savoury filling that made them all addictive. And like cig borek, they were served atop a salad with yogurt.

Chicken Shish Kebab with Rice and Salad

Chicken Shish Kebab with Rice and Salad

The fourth dish was a plate of chicken shish kebab with rice and salad. The chicken was tender and juicy without being greasy. Flavoured well, the seasoning had permeated the meat down to the hole where the skewer had been removed. Instead of a dry salad like at many Mediterranean restaurants, there was a light vinaigrette on garden fresh lettuce and tomatoes. Rather than just plain rice, there were chickpeas added that surprisingly added some umph. Of all the Turkish shish kebab plates I’ve had, this was a model of “doing it correct.”

Kazindibi

Kazandibi

For the fifth course, I finished with a kazandibi and hot Turkish tea. Aside from the dollops of whipped cream with the dessert, there was nothing fanciful about the presentation. It was the homemade flavour from actual burned milk pudding and the topping of crushed nuts that resulted in something looking bland tasting instead like a dessert handed down from heaven.

Tea

Turkish Tea, Iced

Hot Turkish Tea

Turkish Tea, Hot

The location where Cafe Orchid sits makes it almost nondescript. It is juxtaposed between a physical therapy building and residence. One would notice it more while walking. While the inside is cozy, there is plenty outdoor seating and highly recommended during warmed months. The service falls in the category of great. Ordering linearly was a plus, as it allowed for a sampling of several dishes without having dishes overlap during the meal. And no one can argue about how genuinely Turkish all the dishes are. Cafe Orchid makes the third Turkish restaurant I’ve gone to in Chicago that remains true to the aromas, flavours, and traditions of Turkey.

Cafe Orchid Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lavash Mediterranean Grill — Delicious, Luscious, Lavish

Lavash Mediterranean Grill

When the temperatures in Chicago start to warm up and stay warm consistently, restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating open their patios and put tables outside for patrons. With the temperatures starting to fluctuate between the 70’s and the 80’s, Chicago is now in the throes of outside seating season — and allergies. Wanting to try something different and not of the medium to large restaurant variety, I looked for something more hole-in-the-wall. Lavash Mediterranean Grill at 651 W. Washington Blvd in West Loop was what I ended up sampling.

Beef Doner

Beef Doner

Having endured my morning CrossFit workout, I had an appetite slightly more intense than usual. (Okay, that was a lie, being that I eat constantly.) For muscle mass, the recommendation is that you increase protein intake. So, I ordered a beef doner, that came with rice and salad. This was the first time I had a Turkish dish with the meat prepared from a rotisserie. I can say without pause that halal beef, seasoned well, and not of the beef jerky texture is addictive. Well, Lavash Mediterranean Grill certainly prepares it divinely.

Chicken Doner

Chicken Doner

With a bit of room left, I ordered another dish, this time with chicken. The chicken doner was succulent. Thin slices of chicken had been sliced from the rotisserie and seasoned well. Served with rice and a salad, I was surprised that I completed the whole platter given the beef doner, which was not a small plate. For a dish that looked dry, the strips of chicken were juicy.

Rice Pudding

Rice Pudding

There were a few items on the dessert menu that I contemplated. There was baklava that I took a pass on since I am not a fan of nuts. There was also kazandibi, a traditional Turkish pudding that has the consistency of a creamy flan. And there was rice pudding, which I had never had of the Turkish variety. I was well past pleased to have opted for the rice pudding. As a finale, I had a glass of loose leaf tea that had been brewed perfectly enough to take without sugar.

Tea

Tea

For those who rank interior design and ambiance in restaurants with higher significance, there is absolutely nothing to that aspect of the cafe that you will find appealing. The cafe is mostly a walk-up with counter seating, a few tables, and one table outside. It is the food that you will be focused on more. Note that there will be a constant flow of Turkish customers coming in and out. That is perhaps the one indication that everything served from the kitchen behind the cash register is authentic. It was definitely lavish on the tongue.

Lavash Mediterranean Grill on Urbanspoon

Top 10 Jaunts for 2014

December has arrived and yet again I have the feeling that there is something that I did not do during the months of January to November. I did satisfy my resolutions for the year — getting my master bathroom remodelled, bringing my blood sugar level down, and engaging in regular exercise to shrink the tire that was around my waistline. What I did not miss throughout the year were delectable meals. And that brings me to my Top 10 Jaunts for 2014. Although I included some American restaurants in my write-ups this year, the following restaurants area reflective of the theme that I created for Chicago Alphabet Soup. So, here are my favourite ethnic jaunts for the year.

10. Turquoise Cafe
Roscoe Village is a nice spot for checking out some swanky boutiques, small cafes, and fine dining without “fine dining costs.” After a stroll down the avenue, stop in for some Turkish offerings. Spacious on the inside for several patrons and growling bellies, outdoor seating during the spring and summer, Turquoise Cafe is one of a few Turkish restaurants in Chicago. It is “the best” in Chicago, though.

Turquoise Cafe, Collage

Turquoise Cafe, 2147 W. Roscoe Street, Chicago, IL 60618

 


9. Rio’s D’Sudamerica
Bucktown is one of Chicago’s premier neighbourhoods. Homeownership, boutiques, and restaurants make up a landscape that result in a constant flow of pedestrians. When a lot of those patrons develop appetites, they find seats at Rio’s D’Sudamerica for Peruvian food packed full of wow. Rio’s D’Sudamerica is large on the inside, but unlike most big box restaurants, the food is consistently blooming with Peruvian flavour. A clear indication is the constant influx of Peruvians who frequent the restaurant. And with service that does not rush you, trust me when I say that you will be stuffed when you are done.

Rio's D'Sudamerica Collage

Rio’s D’Sudamerica, 2010 W. Armitage Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647

 


8. A10
Chicago’s Hyde Park has experienced a renaissance. With that came the addition of an Italian restaurant that deviated from the expected dishes consisting of red sauces and meatballs. There is a coastal influence to the menu, which means a splendid selection of seafood. The wait staff is engaging, the bar service is phenomenal, and the food is so awesome that you may find yourself making a reservation for a return at least once a month. The menu changes each season, so this is even more of a good reason to make A10 Hyde Park a constant entry on your calendar.

A10 Hyde Park, Collage

A10, 1462 E. 53rd Street, Chicago, IL 60615

 


7. Little Bucharest
There doesn’t appear to be a long list of Romanian restaurants in Chicago. Little Bucharest in Irving Park makes up for that. More like a banquet hall, which allows diners to sit comfortably, this bistro does not shy away from authenticity in the Romanian recipes. Expect some hearty dishes, as in plentiful in quantity. There are no boiled potatoes and bland meat dishes. Everything has a wow factor. And before you leave, you may get a special christening of an alcoholic spirit.

Little Bucharest Bistro Collage

Little Bucharest Bistro, 3661 N. Elston Avenue, Chicago, IL 60618

 


6. taKO’s KOreanos
Many restaurants will try to introduce fusion in their cuisine. Some fail. And then there are those like taKO’s KOreanos in Andersonville that get it correct. Who would have thought that Mexican and Korean would make for such a fantastic cultural cuisine marriage? Tacos, enchiladas, and burritos are prepared with Korean accents to the fillings. Having been opened since April with no kinks in the service or output from the kitchen, one would only have to notice the steady stream of customers coming and going to recognize that the fusion dishes are constant draws to those who love a mix of Mexico and Korea.

taKO's KOreanos, Collage

taKO’s KOreanos, 1706 W. Foster Avenue, Chicago, IL 60640

 


5. Altiro
The drive out to Geneva, IL, may be far. I recommend taking the Metra train so that you can go to sleep afterwards. Tacos, tacos, and more tacos, but nothing of the Taco Bell ilk and nothing of the Mexican taqueria brand either. Altiro has cornered the market on creating a variety of tacos that would otherwise be noteworthy entrées without the flour tortillas. Expect to find a bit of Central America and South America in the recipes. I have always thought that French, Italian, and Asian restaurants have the best bar service. Add Altiro to the list. For those who are indecisive, simply tell the server to surprise you and prepare to be pleasantly surprised.

Altiro, Collage

Altiro, 308 Anderson Boulevard, Geneva, IL 60134

 


4. LaNotte Cafe & Bar
The father-son team at LaNotte Caffe & Bar should be taken on the road. Well, their comedy acts should. The food, however, should remain in Berwyn where it is close enough for those in the metropolitan area to get to easily. One may argue that there is a such thing as too many Italian restaurants in the Chicago area. What they can’t say is that they know where the very best Italian restaurants are. LaNotte Cafe & Bar falls into the category of “must visit.” Food is prepared to order and to specification per the customer. The seafood dishes are my favourite and if you order the sea bass that the father de-bones tableside, then you too will understand why that dish is at the top of my list.

La Notte Cafe & Bar, Collage

La Notte Cafe & Bar, 6822 Windsor Avenue, Berwyn, IL 60402

 


3. Himshikar Restaurant
One may be able to find Indian, Pakistani, and combination Indo-Pak restaurants throughout Chicago. However, for the absolute best Nepali restaurant in Chicago, Himshikar Restaurant in the Sauganash neighbourhood is highly recommended for frequent visits. The food is slow cooked, so it does not come to the table immediately. But never mind that. You can relax or even engage the owners in conversation while the kitchen staff prepares your dishes. Himshikar Restaurant is not a large restaurant, so it makes it easy to engage the staff while trying not to shoot to the moon from such incredibly flavourful Nepali food. And once the food arrives, be ready for culinary excitement.

Himshikar Restaurant, Collage

Himshikar Restaurant, 6031 N. Cicero Avenue, Chicago, IL 60646

 


2. Oceanique
Anyone who has had authentic French food will tell you that not everything is drowned in rich cream. There is also provincial French food, which is very indulgent. Oceanique captures the best of both flavours of France. Moderate in size, this restaurant forgoes the big box effect for authenticity in the dining experience. Coupled with superb bar service and A-list table service, each meal is guaranteed to make you forget that you don’t have to fly all the way to France to have some of the best French food on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Oceanique, Collage

Oceanique, 505 Main Street, Evanston, IL 60202

 


1. Osteria Langhe
Don’t expect pasta and pizza. Osteria Langhe serves Italian food that has a bit of a French influence to it. The risotto is the absolute best and the seafood dishes are unparallelled. And if you are so inclined to want pasta, the plin is the best in Chicago. Although the food at Osteria Langhe keeps one returning for more, the atmosphere, splendid bar service, and table service create a feel of going to someone’s home rather than going to an establishment. There is truly an “old country” Italian feel in the middle of cultural hub Logan Square. Chances are by your third visit, you will be on first name basis with the staff.

Osteria Langhe, Collage

Osteria Langhe, 2824 W. Armitage Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647

 


Well, it is at this time that I want to take time to wish a Happy Holidays to all who have been following Chicago Alphabet Soup via the blog, on Facebook, and through my Instagram posts. May the New Year bring you peace, joy, and happiness. And may some server at a restaurant bring you a dish that keeps you returning for more. Until 2015, good eating!

Turquoise Café, A Little Turkish Spice

Turquoise Café

Middle of the week and I was reviewing the listing of ethnic restaurants that I have blogged so far. I realized that Thai, Indian, Italian, Latin American, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern food are abundant in Chicago. And I wondered what I had possibly missed. Then I realized that not far from where I live is a swanky stretch of boutique shops that has some culinary surprises. And what should I find while wandering around after work but a Turkish restaurant. Turquoise Café at 2147 W. Roscoe Street is one that was new to me, although it has served Roscoe Village for several years, so the intent of the experience was to enjoy it as a brand new discovery.

Arriving well before sunset, I sat outside to enjoy the nice weather. Warm bread and a spread of eggplant, red peppers, and olive oil came to the table. Turquoise Café has a neon sign in the window that says, WE BAKE OUR OWN BREAD. They do a superb job and the light smokiness of the spread was a nice start. Where I knew the dining experience was going to be top was with the diver sea scallops served with lettuce leaves shaped to hold mini tomato salads and situated atop dollops of creamed avocado wasabi. I have had tender scallops at numerous restaurants. However, cutting through the scallops at Turquoise Café was like slicing through a cloud. You would not think something so cloud-like would burst with flavour either, the way those seasoned scallops tasted. My next starter was a bowl of creamy lentil soup. If I sound like a broken record when I say that Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants serve the best lentil soup, I apologize, but anyone who slurps a bowl of the lentil soup will corroborate my statement.

Turquoise Café, Collage

Turquoise Café, Collage

Having spent the July 4th weekend feasting with African and Caribbean friends, I did not partake of the American favourites like barbecue ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs,  macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob, and Miller Genuine Draft beer. Coming down from my high of curry chicken, jerk fish, red snapper, rice and beans, waakye, jolloff rice, and homemade ginger beer, I was in a rare mood to deviate from my pescatarian diet, as if I haven’t done that enough. I ordered lamb chops over a medley of vegetables consisting of potatoes, brussel sprouts, broccoli, mushrooms, and asparagus tips. Greeks are not the only ones to prepare lamb worthy of wanting a second dish and Turquoise Café produces a plate of tender lamb even when it has been requested to be cooked well. After delighting myself completely with the succulent chops, I told the server that I would have dessert and coffee, but required some time to pause. When the wait was over, I had kazandibi with Turkish coffee. Leave baklava for the non-adventurers. The creamy custard of the kazandibi topped with a light caramelized sugar crust and further topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and then garnished with berries is a “must” dessert option.

Turquoise Café has a nice interior, for those who brim with happiness over ambience. For those who are aware that Chicago has eight months of winter that require most dining experiences to occur inside, take advantage of the outdoor seating in the midst of Roscoe Village and indulge yourself to satisfaction on some delectable Turkish menu items. One thing to be aware of is that food is placed to order. While many may think that some items should arrive at the table post haste, they don’t, and you may want to have restaurants you visit in the future take their time preparing your dishes. For my dining experience, I was expecting a bill somewhat bloated considering all that I ordered. I was pleasantly  surprised. So, for lip-smacking food, top service, and a reasonable price, I left sated and with intentions to return in the future. I could use a little Turkish spice in my life.

Turquoise on Urbanspoon