Zapatista Za-pa-tis-ta WOO WOO!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A true South Loop gem! Zapatista Cantina serves up fresh, authentic Mexican cuisine with style. As you approach the restaurant, located at Wabash and 13th, you will see its bright and sunny orange awning. During warmer months, the awning provides shade for patio diners and is packed every evening. Inside, the walls of Zapatista are painted rich oranges and reds and covered with black and white photos of Mexico. In the back dining area, pointy star-shaped light fixtures dangle from the ceiling and cast streaky shadows on the walls. When we dined there, the front seating area had a display of skull decorations for Dio de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. This place has a lively vibe and is perfect for large gatherings.

But, wait! Besides food and scenery, this place is about history. Zapatista is named after the revolutionary figure Emiliano Zapata who fought for land reform in Mexico during the early 1900s. He's the guy who said: "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!" He was pretty bad ass. Ok, now back to the fine dining. As an appetizer, you should absolutely have the guacamole. Each portion of cool guac is made to order, and you can even see the guacamole girl create your order fresh and from scratch. If you aren't too hungry, try the tropical salad. It is made of crisp lettuce and sweet mango and orange pieces lightly tossed in a tangy pineapple-cilantro vinaigrette. The flavor combination is very pleasant and perfect for a quick meal.

If it's fajitas that you want, bring a friend and order the Fajitas for Two dish. Chicken, steak, fish, shrimp or veggies come in a giant sizzling bowl with the tortillas and all the fixings on the side. It is plenty to share and has a neat presentation. And if you care about where your food comes from, you will be pleased to find out that Zapatista uses only organic, antibiotic-free chicken raised on independent farms. Order anything, like the enchiladas, Suiza Style and it comes with a delicious coating of melted Chihuahua cheese. Do it.

Sometimes you don't really want a big meal, you just want to kick back and have some drinks. Zapatista has a full bar featuring a mile long list of tequilas. When you go there, you must have my most favorite cocktail ever as of this date: El Bijote Famoso. It is one-third mojito, one-third margarita, and one-third pina colada all blended with ice and limes! Crisp, cool, and refreshing! Plus, it's an original concoction, so you won't be finding this anywhere else. This drink comes by the glass or liter, so it's also perfect for sharing. But, really, it's perfect anytime. It's that good. Come on a Monday for $5 margaritas or a Tuesday for $5 mojitos.

By the end of the meal you will feel that food baby start to kick. But if you happen to be crazy like we are, it won't stop you from ordering dessert. Try the chocolate tamale; it is a little molten chocolate cake wrapped in a corn husk and served with a bit vanilla ice cream. Or the tres gelatos featuring mini-scoops of mango, vanilla, and burnt caramel ice creams served on a cinnamon wafer. Then you can check-in to the hospital for that diabetic coma. What a way to go.

In today's review:

1307 South Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL

Disappointment in the South Loop

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Basmati lust. That is a term a friend from high school came up with to describe our insatiable cravings for Indian food. Spicy curry, naan bread, samosas, mango lassis... I can't get enough! But I definitely did have enough of India Grill. Words cannot describe how excited I was when India Grill opened its doors in the South Loop; there aren't many Indian places around the loop, especially the South Loop. However, my expectations were way too high.

India Grill looks impeccable and expensive, something that is also unusual for the South Loop. When my friend Duncan and I walked into India Grill at 6pm on a Wednesday, we were the only people there. Its fancy appearance might be off-putting to the Columbia College students leaving from their nearby classes looking for a cheap meal. Hungry, we sat down right away to order dinner. I ordered Navrattan Korma, a traditional vegetable dish in a creamy sauce along with some buttered naan. Duncan ordered a curry of beans and lentils and of course we wanted rice. These two vegetarian dishes were very reasonable, I believe only $8.99. I took note that most dishes containing chicken or lamb were around $12.

When our food arrived, I was kind of shocked. Both of our curries were more like soup; extremely watered down, thin and runny. As I spooned the Navrattan Korma onto my plate, I was even more dismayed to see the vegetables in it were nothing more than the frozen vegetable medley that you get at the grocery store. You know, the chopped green beans, corn, and diced carrots that were a staple of elementary school hot lunches. I could tell that the dish had potential, the flavor was quite nice. I can only imagine how delicious it could have been, had it not been watered down to nothing and chock full of thawed, flavorless veggies. The same goes for Duncan's dish, the beans and lentils were just floating in what was basically a runny broth. It's a shame, I wanted this place to be a hit! But, unfortunately it lacked the flavor and richness that is what makes me love Indian food so much. That aside, I do have to say that the naan bread was delicious, golden and baked perfectly. The only true upside to this meal.

As if I couldn't be any more shocked, when we got our bill we found that our plate of rice was not included in our meal and was an additional $5.99. From my personal experience, any place that charges extra for rice has hardly been worth it. Most times it is included, and they only charge you a small fee if you request an extra portion. At least at another Indian restaurant I went to, they told me in advance that rice would cost extra. And I can even understand a couple dollars, sure. But $5.99... I repeat, not worth it. No wonder the thousands of other twenty-somethings in the area seem to be avoiding this place. It is expensive and not rightfully so. Maybe it was just a bad day, a new cook, or some other excuse. This is entirely possible, but I don't know if I will be going back to shell out $11.99 on their buffet just to give them a second chance.

In today's review:

India Grill
1112 S. Wabash Ave.
Tel: (312) 662-1111

Karyn's: Vegan and Savory

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

So, Chicago might not be a vegetarian's best bet for food; this city is full of steakhouses, BBQs, and chicken shacks. But you would be surprised at how many quality vegetarian and vegan restaurants can be found with only a small search effort. One such place is Karyn's Cooked, which is located very conveniently off the brown line Chicago & Franklin stop. Karyn's was started by a former model of the same name turned vegan raw food specialist. She has another location that serves up all raw food entrees in Lakeview, but this River North location is all vegan hot entrees.

First of all, this place is sweet and cozy. Talk about a great first date location, Karyn's is intimate with soft lighting and a slick atmosphere. When we arrived it was pouring rain and we ran in soaking wet. I ordered some hot tea, an organic tropical green flavor, and was surprised to learn that Karyn's does in fact carry honey. The strictest of vegans do not eat honey because it is produced by bees. Our friendly waitress asked if we had been to this restaurant before and when we all responded that it was our first time, she told us to wait a moment. A few minutes later she returned with a tray full of samples. There was chili, mac and "cheese" and two soups. We were incredibly thankful for the samples, being that we do not eat all-vegan food very often if at all.

I ordered the "meatball" sub which was a hearty blend of chickpeas covered in marinara sauce and served on a wheat bun. The dish was full of flavor and really satisfying. It came with potatos and mac and cheese on the side which means that I was completely full after this. Brynn ordered a bowl of the spicy chili that came with a hunk of cornbread. It was so rich that Brynn had a hard time finishing this simple looking meal. Gordon had a tasty wrap with slices of seitan and veggies with the same sides as mine. Was it any good? Gordon went back two days later for more. That should answer your question.

As if the meal alone wasn't enough, our waitress came back with dessert samples. We tried a chocolate cake, "cheese"cake, and a cookie. The desserts are so sweet and creamy that it is truly hard to believe they are 100% vegan. Despite the deliciousness, we were so full there was no room for dessert. Actually... well Gordon took a slice of chocolate cake for the road. The overall theme of this post is to try something new. Many people hear "vegan" and think of hippies and carrot sticks and blandness. Karyn's proves this to be completely untrue! Even if you are unfamiliar with vegetarian foods, you will find something to love at Karyn's Cooked.

In today's review:

Karyn's Cooked
738 N Wells St
Chicago, IL

(312) 587-1050