Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Restaurant That Keeps Me Coming Back... By: Karolyn

Karolyn is a High School English Teacher who works and lives in the city of Chicago. She enjoys reading, writing, running, eating, travelling, and movie-going. Karolyn says if she had to choose her favorite foods, she'd go with spicy foods and comfort foods. She believes that going out to eat should be a celebration of food and is a great way to introduce yourself to a completely different culture.

(Taste of Peru was featured on Check, Please! in Season 6, but we loved Karolyn's passionate review so much, we decided to re-visit them. You can check out Taste of Peru on Check, Please! here.)

The restaurant that keeps me coming back is Taste of Peru. I have frequented this restaurant for the past two years. Though located in a strip mall of sorts on the far north side, there’s nothing strip-mall about this place. It’s not fancy, but one whiff of the spices and joy coming from inside and I was hooked. Having had the opportunity to visit Peru, I was introduced to the authentic dishes that so many Peruvian restaurants here have forgotten: strips of ceviche (none of that chopped-up-into-tiny-martini-glasses kind), real corn tamales, beef heart shish kebab (or, for the perhaps less adventurous, chicken), Cau-Cau (tripe stew), fried plantains, and my favorite: Aji de Gallina (a shredded chicken dish topped with a walnut cream sauce and hard-boiled egg with potatoes and rice). True comfort dish! Most beef and chicken dishes are served authentically, meaning with both rice and potatoes. Carbs are not to be dodged here!

The staff never rushes you, even if you are finished and there is a line out the door. If you have wine or beer left, you are welcome to stay and drink up. Since the friendly staff is of Peruvian background and seem to maintain close ties to their homeland, you may trust that they know authentic Peruvian food, and they are happy to help you choose from their vast menu of deliciousness the dish that suits your fancy or threshold for adventure.

The last time I was here, it was Peruvian Independence Day. There was celebratory Peruvian music in the background, and everyone--whether Peruvian or not--got into the celebration. The owner was handing out Pisco Sours. I had several Pisco Sours in Peru and never really enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed his. Talking with him, I was instructed that the next time I come in, I should bring my own Pisco and he would personally mix it up for me. He assured me that I would never turn down a real Pisco Sour, musing that I must have gone to the “bad” bars. Talk about genuine hospitality. I will be going back with a bottle of red wine…and a bottle of Pisco! While I normally don’t order dessert, that night I noted that they have Mazamorra Morada, i.e., purple corn pudding. In Peru, purple corn is also made into a wonderful juice drink. I decided to give the dessert a try. The presentation wasn’t the best—it just came in a water glass—but the sweetness brought me back to Cusco where I first had purple corn juice. The texture was almost like a rice pudding and it just burst with flavor. 

This, for me, is the sign of a true restaurant: one that awakens your taste buds, celebrates and embraces different cultures, and awakens memories.

Taste of Peru
6545 N. Clark St. 
Chicago, IL 60626 
(773) 381-4540

Friday, August 3, 2012

My Most Memorable Experience at a Restaurant... By: Patti

Patti is an administrative assistant that lives in Frankfort. She loves going out to Italian restaurants and says her favorite dish is the Baked Spinach Ravioli from Rocco's Little Italy. Patti says she knows her food as her friends are always asking her for restaurant recommendations on her train ride to work.

One of my most memorable recent dining experiences took place this past weekend at Eddie Merlot’s in Burr Ridge. Because my husband and I are no strangers to fine dining, we were recommended Eddie Merlot’s and decided to give it a try.

Immediately upon entering Merlot’s, one is visually astounded by the upscale contemporary décor - the lighting is colorful and festive, the stained glass pieces that hang from the ceiling are beautiful, the chairs at each table are “living room” stuffed chairs, which immediately makes you realize you will be comfortably seated in this sophisticated arena. Spacing of tables allows for easy movement around the restaurant and is conducive to privacy in conversation. Although your eyes are roaming to take in all the beautiful décor, the main attraction would have to be the floor-to-ceiling wine “cellar” encased in glass, which takes up the back wall of the restaurant. The “cellar” offers you a rare view of the large selection of the wines that Merlot’s has to offer.

You are escorted to your table by one of several hostesses and your wait staff magically appears within minutes. Our waiter, Jaime, gave a short overview of the steaks for which Merlot’s is known, and when asked, comfortably offered suggestions and comment on our selections. For appetizers, presentation of the calamari was most notable as it is served in an edible “bowl” made to look like an open clam/seashell. Upon our waiter’s recommendation, we also ordered the blue cheese potato chips which were flavorful and delicious, but not heavy. Merlot’s offers several salads, one being a wedge, however, what set Merlot’s apart, was the offer of a maple apple cider vinaigrette, which caused the taste buds to water.

For the steak lover, the bourbon marinated rib eye is a flavor explosion, while the bone-in rib eye with gorgonzola literally melted in the mouth. Sides are perfect for sharing, and the Eddie’s potatoes (diced potato with jalapeno in au gratin sauce) are a great enhancement to any entrée and something apart from the everyday baked potato.  The Brussels sprouts with cippollini onions and diced bacon would make a veggie eater out of anyone. They were a taste bonanza. Each course is brought to the table and served by wait staff and managers so that the entire table is served at one time.

Eddie Merlot’s is a fine dining experience geared for the diner who wants to savor and enjoy each course with the perfect down time in between. General manager Jeff Stoltman and his staff are devoted to making you feel pampered. Merlot’s is the perfect place for that special occasion, even if that special occasion is simply because it’s a Saturday!

Eddie Merlot's 
201 Bridewell Drive
Burr Ridge, Illinois 60527
(630) 468-2098

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