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Posts Tagged ‘masa’

A few nights ago Yuki and I went for a walk and realized that we were pretty hungry. The beauty of Chicago in the summer is the numerous al fresco options. We walked by Angels and Mariachis on Division and I remembered something my friend Chef John Caputo said about the place, “it’s tacos for gringos.” I happen to be a gringo, and I happen to love tacos. Mind you, he didn’t say they were good, so I had to find out for myself. Yuki’s quite frequently up for some tacos as well, so we grabbed a table outside and dined.

Pitchers of the House Margarita were on sale, so we got one. Typical bar margarita, not very strong and a little sweet. Oh well, it was hot out, the margarita was cold, I wasn’t gonna bitch too much. It was refreshing, I just prefer a little tequila in my margaritas.

The chips were freshly fried and nicely salted. The salsa, well, it was salsa. A tad sweet, not quite spicy enough, and very mediocre.

We split a tamale as an appetizer, that was a mistake. The texture was alright, but there was absolutely zero flavor! It was stuffed with slow simmer pork, but you wouldn’t know it without looking. The pork lacked seasoning, the masa lacked seasoning, even the sauce lacked seasoning. I told the waitress to let their chef know not to be afraid of serving a tamale with some flavor. She did remove it from our bill, but they should be ashamed to serve a tamale like that…blaspheme!

We also split a rice and beans plate. They were ok, but definitely not Mexican in flavor. The black beans I make at home are far better than these, but they were edible.

On to the tacos. They come 4 to a plate and are small, about 2-3 bites each. We decided to share three different orders. First was the short rib braised in red wine. It was actually pretty good. The beef was soft and tender while it had the right amount of seasoning, surprisingly after that tamale. Then we had the carnitas. Again, it was also pretty good. The pork was properly cooked and they topped it with matchsticks of carrots and pickled daikon, almost Vietnamese in flavor. It was a nice match for the pork. Last was the lobster. It was basically a seafood salad with lobster meat. Not bad, but not anything special that sings lobster. Could have easily have been crab or shrimp and you wouldn’t have noticed the difference.

The service was pretty good overall. I didn’t have to ask for that tamale to be removed from the bill. I just mentioned how bad it was and she did the right thing. Food came out at a nice pace as well.

All in all, I completely agree with Chef Caputo’s assessment that the place serves tacos for gringos. You really don’t need to say whether or not it’s good or bad as that statement pretty much says it all. While the tacos weren’t too bad at all, I don’t think I’ll jump out of my seat and rush back for more.

On a side note, I’m still very dissapointed that Andy’s Deli is no longer there. I still mourn when they sold the building, and having flavorless tamales served from the very space that used to sell the best tubes of smoked pork in town only makes me miss them more.

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This past Friday night Yuki and I had dinner with our friends Nick and Andrea. I was charged with finding a place that none of us had been to before. Yuki had mentioned a taste for tamales so I thought I’d find a Mexican joint. Since Nick and Andrea have travelled extensively through Mexico I knew it wouldn’t be hard to convince them to try Don Diablo with us. I believe Nick’s response was, “you had me at tamales”. So, we headed over the former Fonda Del Mar current Don Diablo, and we’re all damn glad we did.

It’s a little out of any gentrified neighborhood so there aren’t many people who know about it yet, but I think that will all change soon. Especially since it’s BYOB, keeping costs down.

The interior is very quaint. It has an exposed kitchen and the tables aren’t to close together that you’re bumping up against strangers. Music wasn’t too loud so you don’t have to shout in order to converse. The service was also pretty good. There was only one waitress, but with only 4 tables we never got antsy waiting for service.

Of course, we started with the tamales. Chicken filled and topped with a green sauce and some melted cheese. They put a lot of whole kernels in their masa which gave a little bit more sweetness to the dish. It took a couple of bites to get used to it, but after those couple of bites I found that I really enjoyed them. With two tamales per order we got two orders so that we each got our own.

The other appetizer we tried was the Quesadillas De Huitlacoche. You almost have to order huitlacoche whenever you see it because it’s such a delicacy with a great earthy flavor. That said, I don’t think they really showcased the huitlacoche all that much in these. With chihuahua cheese, epazote, and guacamole on the side the huitlacoche almost got lost. Don’t get me wrong, they were very good, but I wanted more huitlacoche flavor.

Nick and Andrea each ordered the Enchaladas De Pollo. They did so for the mole. It had a very deep chocolate flavor, but was smooth and delicious. Not an outstanding plate, but a very very good one.

I ordered Puerco en Mole. Really soft and perfectly cooked pork loin served in a green mole with pumpkin seeds. The mole was very light which was nice because it didn’t overpower the pork flavor. It also came with garlic mashed potatoes with melted cheese. Another very very good dish.

Ah, the piece de resistance! Yuki ordered the Cochinita Pibil. Slow cooked pork shoulder cooked in a banana leaf and served with black beans, pickled onions, and a spicy habanero salsa. This was one of the best pork dishes I have ever eaten in Chicago. If it were socially acceptable I would dress myself in cochinita pibil and prance about town. The pork was fall-apart tender full of flavor. The pickled onion just explodes in your mouth. The beans add substance. The habanero salsa was the perfect level of spice, a slow burn that coats your mouth but isn’t overpowering and makes you want to come back for more. This dish was truly impressive.

We kind of shared three desserts. Coconut Flan was one of them. It was a little thick, but had a great flavor.

Mango sorbet, nice and light with a great natural sweetness.

And a Pecan Pie with vanilla ice cream, not really what I think of when I think of Mexican dessert, but a delicious one nonetheless. I’m not sure if the desserts were homemade or brought it, but they were pretty good.

Overall, I find Don Diablo to be one of the best kept secrets in Chicago Mexican dining. Every dish was cooked perfectly with nice balance and quality ingredients. Service was efficient and friendly. The price point was excellent, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better value for a Mexican meal like this. Cochinita Pibil is a true masterpiece. I would crawl on my hands and knees in the middle of January to get a taste of that again.

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Last night we finally got to try Ruxbin Kitchen. It was our third attempt, and I guess it’s true what they say, the third time’s the charm. You see, Ruxbin Kitchen is a new restaurant just down the street from us that opened up this past summer. They don’t take reservations and word must have gotten out quick about how good it is because the first two times Yuki and I went there the wait was 1.5 hours. Yesterday we planned on going early, at 6pm, to ensure a table. We got our table, and while I don’t think there was a wait after we got there, the restaurant was full, for good reason.

It’s a small space, only about a 40 person capacity maybe. It’s real kitschy inside. Comfortable seats, wood tables and fixtures, cookbooks displayed on the walls, and pages from cookbooks plastered all over the ceiling.

Service was good. Not the fastest, not the slowest, but a nice pace. Our server was knowledgable of the menu and didn’t push us in any direction. It is BYOB, so be prepared. They do offer the proper glasses and openers. They also brought out popcorn sprinkled with ground nori to nosh on while perusing the menu. That replaced bread service.

We started off with the Crispy Eggplant. It’s sliced, quartered eggplant coating in bread crumbs and deep-fried. Served with roasted beets, sticks of cucumber, frisee, and honey-cardamom yogurt. There’s also some pepper sprinkled around one edge of the plate for you own pleasure. I have to say, as much as I love the classic beet salad with mixed greens, walnuts, and fried goat cheese that everyone serves, this was a really nice change of pace. Even though it’s called Crispy Eggplant, for me, the beets were the dominant flavor. Very nice salad to start with.

Next, we shared the K-Town Empanadas. Two empanadas stuffed with masa, kimchee, Oaxaca cheese, and covered with a chimichurri creme fraiche. Who on earth would put cheese and kimchee together? Chef Ed Kim, that’s who. What a stroke of genius! The kimchee took center stage while the cheese added a subtle sweetness and the masa some texture. definitely a winner.

We split two entrees. One was a perfectly cooked piece of trout with nice crispy skin and moist flesh. It was served on top of a bulgur wheat tabbouleh with black sesame seeds and dates, asparagus spears on top, and basil pesto drizzled around the plate. I’m not usually impressed by trout, but this dish was fantastic. The sweet dates, bitter asparagus, earthy bulgur wheat and sesame seeds, and herby basil all worked really well together.

The other entrée we got was their play on chicken and waffles. There was roasted breast with crispy skin along one side of the plate. That came with a citrus sauce of some kind. Then was a cumin cheddar waffle with dark meat carnitas and apple walnut compote. The waffle was sliced in half with the carnitas sandwiched in between and the compote on top. The rest of the plate was a slaw with arugula. The waffle was outstanding. The most creative take on chicken and waffles I’ve ever eaten and another home run by Chef Kim. My only gripe with the plate was that the breast was a little over salted, not so much that it was bad though. That’s something that most chefs do and I’ll never understand. I like salt, but chefs almost always put a little too much on chicken. Oh well, the entire dish was great.

We didn’t have any room in our guts for dessert so I can’t comment on them. Next time we go back we’ll keep it to one appetizer so that we have room for dessert. And believe me, we’ll definitely go back! Not sure it’s worth a 1.5 hour wait (I don’t think any restaurant is worth that) but it’s definitely worth waiting for a while if you get there and it’s full. I love having a joint like this so close to my place. A great place to take out-of-town friends who want something hip that’s off the beaten path.

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