Last night I joined a couple of chowhounds that willing show their face for an amazing meal at Continental Cafe. It was amazing not so much for the food (plenty good, descriptions to follow), nor the awfully sweet Rumanian pinot noir that freely flowed and perhaps influenced our perceptions. Rather, it was such a unique and special occasion that only chowhound could bring about.
A few weeks ago, AaronD introduced us to Continental Cafe, a Romanian place he decided to peek into. He made a post, and eventually, a little dinner date was arranged. Of course, as fate would have it, Aaron need to work late and missed the meal. And, maybe we all would have missed the meal if it was not for the vigilance of Ms. VI and the quick work of Gary.
Ms. VI pressed me for several days to make sure the place was even open on Monday. I finally got around to bringing the issue forward, and Gary acted. Somehow, he reached Little Bucharest's Bronko on a secret house line. Bronko stated that Continental Cafe is NOT open on Monday, but for Gary and his party, well he'd send someone over to cook.
The fedora'd one and I arrived at Continental Cafe around 6:30. Many props for Aaron for even figuring out this non-descript white tavern housed a funct business. At least we knew to enter. Inside, awaited Gary and Seth and Adriana, who had already given much of her history.
Adriana proceeded to pour us eastern eurpean liquors, select wines and prepare a multi-course meal. Nothing like having your own private Rumanian meal, and if you needed an extra glass, you could just walk around the bar and get it yourself. Later in the evening a few Rumanians noticed the lights on and came in for their own fare. Still, nothing diminished from the specialiness and luckiness we recieved last night.
As I said last night, this was probably the best Rumanian food I've ever eaten*. The flavors straddled greek and slavic foods, with the added bonus of mounds of creamy polenta. Appetizers included extra salty tarmasalta and something remarkedly like baba ganoush. More unique were whole red peppers, seeds still present, but collapsed from the weight of an intense garlic dressing. Main dishes included grilled pork kebabs, a fried pork cutlet topped with melted cheese (better if they did not nuke it to melt the cheese) and our two favorite dishes: grilled mittei and stuffed cabbage.
The mittie are related both to middle-eastern kefta and slavic cevacepi--skinless grilled fresh sausages. These were meaty yet light with a vague spice. Gary thought the lack of mass came from baking soda. We were instructed by Adriana to eat the mittie with a no-name mustard that was not too dissimiliar to French's yellow. The stuffed cabbage also featured an airy meat filling. This time ground pork with a touch more than subtle amount of black pepper--whole corns very visible.
Yes, Aaron, there were pickles. All main course come with mouth-tighening pickled cabbage and carrots, dusted with paprika for even more kick. These things woke your mouth up and kept me drinking water the rest of the night. Also included, beside the polenta, were home made french fries cut almost like tater-tots (only in chowhound kind of moment, upon hearing that I thought the fries looked like tater-tots, Gary mentioned a source for the best tater-tots in Chicago).
The polenta gathered all the spare juices from the stuffed cabbage and was as famous as it should be. As good as it was, however, it could not possibly be as good as the version Seth took home for his girlfriend. This version came blanketed in a spread of sour cream so thick and lucious it seemed to be marshmellow fluff.
Desserts included a stange "cookie" that turned out to be an inedible and spoiled baba au rhum kind of creation and marvolous pancakes stuffed with an especially wonderful apricot jam.
DaveH has numerous, numerous pictures. I am sure the rest will pip in with more details and better descriptions. I just wanted to introduce the place and also say again, how it was only possible via chowhound.
*First time in my life, I believe, I've eaten Rumanian food.