Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Restaurant Ecuador

Years ago, an Ecuadorian cab driver recommended Restaurant Ecuador to me. I kept it on my radar for a few months, but it closed down before I could get there. A few days ago around lunchtime, I noticed a few people in and around the tiny storefront, so I parked and walked into a bustling restaurant with a 20 minute wait for one of it’s dozen-or-so tables at 1:30PM on a weekday afternoon. This seemed like a very good sign.

That cab driver years ago lauded Restaurant Ecuador’s seafood, and said that the best ordering strategy was to simply ask the staff what’s freshest that day. That sounded like sound advice, so even though I had already learned that the place is now under completely new ownership, I went with it. My server told me that the corvina had just come in that morning, and the owner was in back right now cutting it into steaks for the corvina frita, which she recommended with rice and plantains. An outstanding suggestion. The corvina had a light coating of flour that had been pan-fried crisp, with juicy, fresh-tasting flesh under the surface. Crisp iceberg shreds with lightly pickled/ marinated onions were a refreshing counterpoint. The rice was somewhat sticky, which may or may not be an intentional style in Ecuadorian cuisine. Either way, it seemed to work well to stab a forkful sticky rice and eat it layered-kabob-style on the same fork with a piece of fish and a marinated onion piece.

Even better than the excellent fish was the bolon de verde I ordered as an appetizer. This very substantial $2.50 oval of mashed green plantain, butter, onion and very crispy chicharrones was flavorful, and a textural pleasure to eat. After being stuffed and rolled, the ovals are oven roasted and basted frequently with lard to crisp up the exterior. It’s a wonderful snack, but if you order it as a starter you really want to share it with at least one more person. I could see the bolon de verde being an excellent meal on it’s own, and in fact my server explained that in Ecuador it is a coastal specialty that’s eaten most frequently for breakfast.

The sense I got from talking to a bunch of congenial patrons who took my struggles to communicate in Spanish with good humor is that while there are numerous Ecuadorian restaurants in Chicago, this is the one where Ecuadorian “foodies” congregate. One gentleman who teaches at a high school across town told me that he is here almost every day. When his coworkers chided him for never joining them, even when they go to an Ecuadorian place a few blocks from the school, he explained that “It’s easier to drive across town for food like this than it is to fly home.” The menu at restaurant Ecuador is expansive, and a young couple told me that in the evenings the place is often filled with a lively crowd taking full advantage of the byob policy. That sounds like fun to me, and I’ll definitely be back.

Restaurant Ecuador
2923 W Diversey Ave
(773) 342-7870

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