As you may know from one of my recent posts, I am working on a restaurant profile of Chilam Balam, a Mexican restaurant that is making waves on the Chicago foodie scene, with a spotlight on owner Soraya Rendon and executive chef Natalie Oswald. Hungry after a couple days worth of interviews (video to come), Alex, my partner for the project, and I sat down to enjoy a dinner at the restaurant on the house. Since I had never actually gotten a chance to eat there before (Alex has many times), I can now officially vouch for all of the hype in Chicago around it. Chilam Balam has small plates that pack such rich flavors, and each small plate will truly blow your mind.
When looking at the menu, Alex and I decided to go for the small plates in red font, because those plates are the new ones. We also ordered one of the plates off the menu per the friendly waiter’s recommendation.
Brand new or a classic favorite, it didn’t matter. The food was out of this world. I have eaten at Girl and the Goat, which is the number one most well known and renowned small plate restaurant in Chicago, and I had a spectacular experience there. The small plates at Chilam Balam brought me back to that Girl and the Goat experience, and I was surprised that the food I was eating at the moment was totally comparable to Girl and the Goat.
The dish you cannot skip is the grilled flank steak, which was the one plate that was recommended by our waiter. The steak is finished with roasted potato, crispy onion, guajillo chile, and cilantro. One of the most tender steaks I have ever had, it seemed as if the steak had been slow roasting for days. Served with warm, hand-pressed tortillas on the side that I watched one of the cooks make, it is not possible to resist this twist on tacos.
Also on freshly made tortillas were the fish tacos, served with a yogurt, cabbage, and a grapefruit pomegranate salsa. How chef Natalie even thinks up these wonderfully unexpected and innovative combinations, I don’t know.
I also really, really enjoyed the brussel sprouts salad. The sprouts were finished with grilled pineapple, chives, and pepitas – all foods you would not think to put on a typical brussel sprouts salad, but it really works. The complimentary sauce on the dish was a delicious butternut pineapple puree. Especially with the salad, you can taste the farm-to-table freshness of the food in the restaurant.
All the time we were eating, the bass on the sound system was turned up for house music, controlled by Soraya’s brother and Chilam Balam manager Eddie, and was loud enough to hear clearly but not too loud. The music did not distract but rather added to the atmosphere of the restaurant. The warm soul food, house music, painted metal stars hanging down from the ceilings, pillows in the corners, and candles create out of the restaurant a cozy little basement nook that you never want to leave.
After learning all day about the hours and hours that goes into the food preparation, I had an even greater appreciation for the food in front of me. Each plate looks like a small work of art, and it tastes like a small work of art too.
You can find the full November menu for Chilam Balam here on their website. For more on Chilam Balam, see my previous blog post. Stay tuned for more posts ahead on the restaurant. Also, Alex and I’s video profile on the restaurant will be coming out in the beginning of December. Get excited guys – it is going to be awesome!