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

Las Tablas, All About Colombia

Las Tablas

If someone were to employ me as a bona fide food critic, I would be at least 285 pounds. Either that or I would be more of an exercise fanatic than I am now. After my recent strength and endurance training at the gym, I was not as sore as I had been after each session during my first week. Also what I have noticed is that my appetite has spiked, which is okay since my goal is to gain weight — well, muscle mass. Recalling a Colombian restaurant that I had gone to with a great friend years ago in the early days of Chicago Alphabet Soup, I opted to sample from the Portage Park location.

At 4920 W. Irving Park Road is Las Tablas Colombian Steakhouse. Large, spacious, airy, and with plenty of seats, I arrived early, thinking I would get ahead of the crowd. Because I had been snacking all morning and throughout a bit of the afternoon, I had planned not to order as if I had companions dining with me. So, I ordered a reasonable meal and went through my ritual of getting my camera ready for capturing the photos for the blog. No sooner had I finished then I looked up and saw several patrons coming to sit at tables next to me. Of course I got the stares as if I were a hydra once I began my photography.

Las Tablas Collage

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

Now, in addition to my appetite being wild, I drink water and natural juices constantly. One juice that had stayed in my mind when I had gone to the Lincoln Park location was a jugo naranjilla — lulo juice. It brings to mind pineapple and Jamaican june plum juice. It was good for the starter of empanadas that I ordered. There were empanada con queso and empanada con pollo. There must have been a change in the recipe because the empanadas were deep-fried instead of baked, the way they were years ago during my visit. That was no problem, since I had fallen in love with deep-fried empanadas after going to Costa Rican and Venezuelan restaurants.

The entrée was a Utopian platter, for me. It was spiced shrimp served with half of a potato, yucca, and plantain. Some would probably look at the platter and sneer, thinking there was not much to it. I simply commenced to working my knife and fork on the plump shrimp and seasoned sides. And because there were about ten fat shrimp on the platter, I had absolutely nothing to complain about — nothing at all. With the remaining jugo naranjulla, this was a lunch that I would never tire of having.

Surprisingly, I have been disciplined such that I have not indulged a sweet after every meal. Such was the case after lunch at Las Tablas. I had thought about perhaps a cup of coffee afterwards, but I am working myself out of taking coffee after my meals. Slowly, I am reverting to taking tea after my meals. I am certain at a cup of coffee thanks to Juan Valdez would have been a highlight after my culinary session at Las Tablas, but I was good, nonetheless, and did not have a dessert.

Having arrived at what seems like the beginning of an extreme busy time, the one server who was working the floor alone really looked like he was about to get on his knees and crawl. Recognizing how trying it must be when suddenly overloaded, I was cognizant of my ordering and requests in advance so that I was not like several of the others who stopped the man every time he passed their tables. The prices are extremely reasonable for a steakhouse and I will co-sign on the fact that the quality of the output from the kitchen is top-notch. I have a feeling that the closer evening approaches, it may be advisable to make reservations. Once you sample the food, it becomes evident as to why you’ll need reservations because the last thing you’ll want is to watch platters of aromatic dishes passing within your visual range without the servers stopping and placing the dishes immediately within your reach.

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