Saturday, August 02, 2008

De Cero

Chicago Nighttime
Originally uploaded by Suzi Edwards
One of the best things about Chicago is the easy access to a great Margarita and exceptional Mexican food. I can be as relentless as an anteater in my pursuit of a well made cocktail.

I had been in Chicago for less than three hours before I headed to Chipotle for some of their carnitas. Chipotle used to be a guilty pleasure for me, what with formerly being majority-owned by MacDonalds, but they’ve been free of the golden arches since 2006, so you can visit without putting your morals on hold. It’s worth a visit (although probably not worth almost missing an international flight like I did after one visit).

I’m not here to tell you about chain restaurants though. Monday saw me head off to De Cero, a “modern-day tacqueria”. Modern-day signifies that the tuna is ahi, the raspberry daiquiri has basil in it and they’ve gone for a “stripped-down” design ethos. If I worked for Wallpaper*, I’d call it “”a raw-urban aesthetic…with a hint of rustic”, but I don’t, so I’ll call it brown and acoustically-challenged with a hint of I’m sorry I can’t hear you. The only things capable of absorbing the noise in this place are the tamales. It’s busier than a one-legged Riverdancer, but they accommodated me. Chicagoans are nice like that.

I’d been guided towards the duck taco, so that was ordered, along with the ahi tuna, some ceviche and a goat cheese tamale. Oh, and a Margarita, because it was Monday and I am instigating Margarita Mondays from now on.

Chef Jill Barron (who has some interesting tattoos), describes the food as “fresh coastal Mexican” and I would concur, but suggest she tones down the lime in the ceviche as the fresh flavours of the baby scallops and rock shrimp disappear. It’s about as unbalanced as Amy Winehouse’s Glastonbury performance this year. Luckily the tacos are much better, especially the duck. It’s partnered with roasted corn, and the juiceness and sweetness of two make a nice two-part harmony.

Then my tamale arrived. I realise that I am about to have a restaurant malfunction. I don’t actually know how to eat a tamale, I had been seduced by the thought of hot chilli masa. I start scanning the room for clues, but my vision is disintegrating from the noise. I can’t see, it’s so loud. I’m beginning to panic. I’m an autodidact when it comes to restaurants and am happy to make mistakes. That said, most people don’t spend as long as me researching exactly what to do when you’re seated at the sushi bar (use your fingers for nigiri, chopsticks for sashimi, don’t ask the sushi chef for soup, don’t mix your wasabi and soy together and don’t dip the rice in the soy, just in case you were wondering. Any of those will have you pegged as a savage, quicker than you can say irasshaimase). I never expected to be defeated by a tamale though.

The essential problem is that I don’t know if the wrapper is edible. I have encountered a problem like this before, when I nearly choked to death on some edamame in Yo! Sushi! I didn’t know you were supposed to pop the beans out, so scarfed the lot. I soon realized you’d need the teeth of a ruminant to get through one and attempted to swallow it, rather than spitting it out discretely. This caused someone to have to perform the Heimlich maneuver on me. A tentative nibble on the tamale husk proves that it is, indeed, inedible, and akin to eating macramé. Crisis averted, I can dig in. It’s OK.

Of course I had to order another Margarita to get over the panic. Luckily that was delicious.

De Cero is at 814 W.Randolph. Call them on 312 455 8114 but don’t expect them to be able to hear you.


The photo is of Chicago. I thought the photos of the tacos were a bit uninspiring.

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