I am on a mission, as you may have noted, to identify a "balkan" restaurant for a little chow outing February 27 or 28 (looks like the 28th, but that is not final). Last night, I visited one possible choice, Simplon.
Strange concept/nice room. The idea is that the cuisine follows the stops (one dish from each country, with a bunch of extra Serbian offerings) of the Orient Express, and the decor looks like you are in a grand, old railcar, looking out over the crossing of the Danube. Maybe I am a sucker for schmaltz, but I liked the room. We were the only customers at 7p on a Monday, though the owner and a friend were visiting at a table in back.
We were started with a free salad sampler: Mayonaise (Russian) eggs on a chopped carrot salad, white cheese spread, and chicken liver. Liked the eggs most with the salad, nice flavor and texture. Chicken liver quite pure in taste, but could have used some seasoning, and the cheese was just bland. Ordered a "serbian burgundy" wine which turned out to be 2000 Plastaze Vranacs. Nice, soft, simple and approachable. Just enough acid to give it some presence while eating, and almost no tannins. The two of us were able to suck down the bottle no problem.
Beyond that, we went straight Serbian.
Traditional veal vegetable soup was a medium weight broth with good flavor, a few vegetables and lots of chunks of veal. Quite good. My main course was a combination plate: Raznjici (pork shish kebab) and Cevapcici (ground beef and veal tubes, like a kefta kebab) on a bed of raw onions with white and red cabbage salads on the side. Wihout the onions, pork was a bit dry and bland. The Cevapcici was great, nicely browned and rich, the onions a perfect complement. My congenial companion had the Muckalica - pork cubes with grilled vegetables. He choose the "hot" version, which did not seem at all hot to me, but my tolerance for heat is high. This was a riot of yellow and red peppers, with onions and lots of chunks of pork. Very flavorful, and a massive order - almost half was packed to go.
We finished with Slivovitz (warm, sweetened plum brandy) on the house, cherry/walnut crepes shared and Serbian coffee which seemed just like Greek or Turkish coffee, except you add your own sugar, which was fine.
A very satisfying and filling meal. While we were lingering a couple of guys showed up, and set up a table for 10 people, then started talking with the owner about basketball, dropping names of the world class Balkan players (of which there are quite a few). 15 minutes later a number of big guys arrived, including Vlade Divac and Pajian Stojakovic(sp?)of the Sacramento Kings and some other guys, probably players too that I did not recognize, much to our surprise. Apparently they drove down from Milwaukee. The rest of the place then filled up as friends of the owner casually sauntered in and grabbed a table, ordering a drink, looking to hang with the stars.
I guess Simplon qualifies as a food destination among Serbian immigrants - not a bad sign.I will omit my drunken attempt to pry out of these gentlemen what the heck they were doing in Chicago. Bit tipsy, and not at my smoothest. Need to work on my celebrity-ingratiation skills.
Simplon Orient Express
4520 N Lincoln