Thursday, January 3, 2019

"You ordered THAT?!"

Paladar, 2252 N. Western, has china displayed, a tribute to the old Cuban custom of giving gifts of china to married couples.

     The house is filled with boys again, sprawled on the sofa, watching television, leaving their shoes by the door, whipping up unexpected recipes—Russian baked milk, Japanese pancakes, mulled wine. I was in the kitchen, preparing something when one sentence spoken by my older son cut through the clatter.
      "Complaining is part of the fun," he said.
     I stopped what I was doing, carefully dried my hands on my apron, and briskly walked around the island.
     "That's my son," I said, smiling and kissing him on the head.
     It's true. Not that a person wants to point out the negative. It's just natural. And joyous, in that it is enjoyable. The scratching of an itch, a sense of justice served, of truth defended.
     That said, this is not a complaint. I want to be clear. I almost didn't write the following, because I did not want to be seen as complaining.  It is not a criticism; more of a marvel, the sharing of a wonder.
    Last month, my wife and I swung by Tony Fitzpatrick's gallery for a couple openings one Friday after work, and thought we'd grab a late dinner afterward. I examined the options north on North Western Avenue between the gallery and the Kennedy, and settled on Paladar Restaurant and Rum Club. Cuban food, mmm—tasty and not found on every street corner in Chicago.
     The cheery, brightly lit room was utterly empty when we arrived at 8:45 p.m., and the owner greeted us with warmth and sat us at a prime table, explaining the specials of the night. The Carne al Carbon, very good, he said, a speciality of the house.
    I admit, I do not always attend carefully to the rendition of specials the way I should. I like to keep my own counsel. Sort of listening with one ear while scanning the menu with the other....
     Wait a second...
     You get my point. Anyway, he left, we ordered our drinks—homemade limeade, always a good sign. The waitress was friendly and efficient. I ordered the palomilla, a marinated top sirloin, thinly-sliced and covered with onions. I like onions. The meal came. We set to eating. Yum. The owner drifted by to check things out, looked at my plate. His face fell, he said something that nobody associated with a restaurant has ever said to me in a lifetime of vigorous restaurant patronage, a sentiment that I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.
     "You ordered that?!" he said, aghast.
    I explained that I happen to like onions. I did not add that the speciality of the house he recommended cost $22.95 and, economical man that I am, this seemed a solid value at $16.95 and something I would like just as much if not more. I ended up nearly apologizing for my order, promising that I would certainly order the special upon my return.
     And I will. It was good food well-served in a fun setting. I waited nearly a month to relay this, because I wanted to assess, in my own mind, whether I was criticizing the place. I hope I'm not—honestly, I was delighted with his remark. It spoke of passion, of knowledge of their menu, and that invariably some dishes are better than others. Not to mention that rarest of all qualities nowadays: candor.
     Paladar was not crowded for late on a Friday—another couple came in during the hour we were there, and two guys sat at the bar. I bet the place is a really good time, particularly if you can partake of their extensive rum menu. So you should definitely consider checking the restaurant out. And if you do, take my advice: keep the menu closed. Pay attention, then order the special, whatever it is.


  1. That is the type of place I would race back to and try the special. I love this story.


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