Three new restaurants for me this weekend! How sad that it's Monday.
Friday night was Guatemalan food at Mayan Sol, 3830 W. Lawrence. This is a corner storefront with pastoral paintings on the walls and a pleasant, quiet dining room. The staff was very accommodating and allowed us to open our own wine without a corkage fee even though they have a full bar (we mistakenly thought it was BYO, based on an old review). The food is big and heavy. We tried the Guatamalan tamale stuffed with chunks of pork to start. It was dense and thick, but not very flavorful. Then I had the steak and shrimp, which came with creamy pureed black beans, rice, sweet plantains, and excellent guacamole. My friend had chiles rellenos, which were stuffed with vegetables and ground meat (can't recall if it was beef or pork) but no cheese. We tried both desserts (flan and tres leches cake). It was one of the best tres leches I've had, but the flan was not good. Served in a big wedge, it was eggy and heavy rather than light and delicate. The check was about $50 with tax and tip but no drinks. I enjoyed the meal, but it was not particularly exciting and I will probably not go back. I recall liking my Guatemalan meal at El Tinajon better.
Saturday night, a friend and I were in the mood for French food. We also craved a quiet, low-pressure atmosphere without any elements of a "scene." This ruled out Le Bouchon, much as I like it. Cafe Matou was on the list, but a little formal for what we had in mind. Neither of us had been to Cyrano's, so we tried it. A phone call at 6:30 snagged us a table one hour later, so there was no wait. A bowl of olives and a nice little loaf of bread came right out to help us through the menu-reading. For appetizers, we tried the pork and rabbit rillettes (served with toast) and the cheese plate. I enjoyed the cheeses, but the rillette was dry and lacked much flavor. For entrees, I had the braised rabbit, which came in a thick, comforting sauce just like the inside of a pot pie (butter, flour and stock). Very hearty and pleasant, if not exciting. My friend had beef bourguignon, which was lacking something (acidity, more wine?). Both dishes came in enamel pots with leeks, carrots, and turnips. Desserts were both excellent: I had carrot cake with prunce ice cream and my friend had banana mousse crepes with caramel (the banana flavor was extremely fresh and intense). Wine was a 1999 Michel Gro Bourgogne-Rouge and a glass of port with dessert. We saw the chef, Didier Durand, running around frenetically several times. He really seems to be a dynamo -- nothing was escaping his attention. The check came to about $170 with tax and tip -- higher than we had planned. They offer three, four, and five-course fixed price meals that can keep the cost lower. Overall, Cyrano's made a good impression, but it still wasn't quite what I was looking for. Where is that perfect little French (or Spanish, or Italian) restaurant that serves simple hearty food and great wine, and offers a quiet, comfortable, tasteful atmosphere? Europe, I guess.
Sunday night is usually Chinatown for me, but this weekend I went north to Devon and tried Afghan Restaurant, 2818 W. Devon. This is a searingly-bright storefront with traditional Afghan dishes. Gratis soup and salad with Kabul bread began the meal. We ordered half-moon dumplings filled with scallions and topped with cumin-y ground beef and homemade yogurt -- very good -- and pickled vegetables (hot!). Then I had a lamb curry in a rich brown sauce with rice, which was surprisingly mild. Luckily we had extra-hot green relish of chiles, lime and cilantro to dress it up. My friend had lamb kebob with rice -- rather dry and unexciting. Dessert was cornstarch pudding (bland, needed some cinnamon or something) and a tiny round baklava. Good food, and much lighter than an Indian meal of similar size, since much less oil was used. The jarring white lights made it feel like I was eating in a tanning bed, however. The patrons were diverse -- European tourists, Afghans, and hipsters were equally represented.
And one question: I had no idea until yesterday that I live just a few of blocks away from a place called Freddine's Barbeque on Chicago Avenue near Homan. Has anyone been there? It smells mighty good, though I don't know much about the BBQ genre.
3830 W. Lawrence
546 N. Wells
2818 W. Devon
Chicago near Homan