A few weeks ago, I listed my Top 5 roasted chickens in Chicago. I think at the time, I was limiting my options to chickens that were actually roasted in ovens – sealed in their warm cocoons, juices dripping, skin crisping – and left off any rotisserie birds since they don’t really spend much time in an oven, per se. But one look at the operation at Brasa Roja on the Northwest Side, and you quickly realize the Colombians also know a thing or two about transforming chicken into utter deliciousness, even if they don’t seal it into an airtight box.
With a handful of locations in the city (also known as El Llano), the owners have mastered the art of deep marination, slow, circular roasting and then quick-finishing directly over the charcoals, just to crisp up the skin. It’s almost hypnotizing watching the birds rotate ever-so-gently on the custom-made rotisserie, but when you bite into the smoky, juicy bird, you quickly realize this isn’t a dream.
I discovered the tiny Pastel! Cakes and More bakery along South Pulaski completely by accident. I was heading down there to have lunch at the wonderful Birria Zaragoza, and couldn’t help but poke my head inside. What a great little find – a woman from the neighborhood had recently graduated from the French Pastry School and moved back to the area, bringing her wonderful cookies, flans and tarts to an area of the city that had never seen anything like them before. When I was sampling some of the items, I noticed a large plastic cup, filled with some kind of creamy-white treat and topped with a swirl of red. Turns out it’s a mango mousse, dressed with a swizzle of strawberry, and it’s among the lightest, fruit-filled mousses I’ve ever had.
It may seem like a tired trend, but while many new Mexican restaurants attempt to duplicate it, you have to hand it to Adobo Grill for being one of the first in town to make tableside guac a staple part of the experience, as much as a shaken-and-strained margarita. For Cinco de Mayo this week (one of the least important holidays on the calendar by the way; the simchas torah of Mexico), I thought it only appropriate to showcase something from the Mexican kitchen. There is only one Adobo left in Chicago now – the original, in Old Town (Yorktown and Bucktown have long since closed). There’s another one in Indianapolis, and they still make it the same way: fresh serrano chiles, onions, garlic and salt, mashed in a lava molcajete, then the incredibly soft and creamy Mexican avocados I only wish I could find in my local grocery store, folded in and mashed with some tomatoes and fresh cilantro. They’re going to have some special menus and live music in honor of Cinco de Mayo this week, so check the website or give them a call to make reservations. Buen Provecho!