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Monday, June 17

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Last week, a Fuel discussion about neighborhood love inspired me to go exploring in what many claimed to be one of Chicago's most unappreciated neighborhoods: Rogers Park.

I had forgotten how much I treasured that part of town, having spent a great part of my college years discovering its many crooks and crannies. While I could fill pages and pages mourning the unfortunate demise of the stinky Atomic Cafe or reminiscing of long afternoons spent studying in Ennui's window seat, I prefer instead to devote this space to more recent memories.

After all, recollecting my college exploits in Rogers Park could be fun, but sharing my culinary adventure at Cafe Suron, one of the best restaurants that I have visited in a long time, is far more likely to convince you to venture out that way.

I usually value quality food over atmosphere any day of the week, but Cafe Suron's enchanting ambiance rides shotgun alongside a menu brimming with toothsome Persian-inspired eats. The owners have done absolute wonders with a space that once was the lobby of an old Rogers Park hotel (now an apartment building). Brightly painted, lacquered tables, dazzling wall murals and a charming plaster fountain all compete for attention, while tangerine walls and floor-to-ceiling French windows give the room a downright cheerful air. It's amazing what a little natural light can do.

Yet for all of its sparkle, Cafe Suron's acoustics take some getting used to: Unless you lower your voice to a mere whisper you are likely to hear every utterance echoing off the walls. And, since the tables are spaced so closely together, eavesdropping on the couple next to you is quite effortless -- no doubt, you will overhear them singing praises of the delicious food before them.

Maneuvering your way through Cafe Suron's long menu is simplified if you are familiar with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking traditions. Hummus, couscous, baba-ganush (eggplant), dolmeh (stuffed grape leaves), and kabobs all make an appearance, but I decided to bypass these standard offerings and ask the server to point out his favorites. He was all too happy to suggest some of Cafe Suron's most creative menu items.

The highlight of the meal actually came first: a lovely grilled portabella mushroom hidden under a blanket of melted mozzarella cheese with a rosy tomato puree spooned overtop. The zesty sauce sported tasty bits of sun-dried tomatoes, olives and green onions in a light balsamic vinegar reduction with an intensely familiar, yet hard to place, sweet flavor that incited a debate between my boyfriend and I to identify it. Finally, our server ended our discussion and revealed the mysterious ingredient: honey (my boyfriend had been right all along).

The rest of our meal was equally ambitious and flavorful, but nothing came together with such precision as the portabella appetizer. Tender chunks of chicken were covered with a thick pomegranate-ground walnut sauce in the Fessenjan entree. The sauce, which had the color and consistency of melted dark chocolate, emanated both tangy and nutty aromas, yet proved a bit overpowering by the end of the meal. Heaps of white rice helped to mellow out this dish.

The Hawaiian tilapia with dill rice was better (although I was a bit thrown off by the name, given we were consuming Persian food). A generous piece of fresh tilapia was lightly crusted with breadcrumbs, horseradish and basil, pan-fried, and drizzled with balsamic reduction, lemon butter and fresh dill. A delicate pear tart was a subtly sweet ending to the meal.

I'm used to coughing up a decent amount of money for food of this high caliber, but when the bill came, I was surprised: only $31 for an appetizer, two entrees and dessert. I could easily make visiting Cafe Suron a frequent occurrence -- that is, provided it is able to sustain itself long enough.

Despite the glorious reviews all over the Web, I was a little disheartened that the restaurant was fairly empty. However, to be fair, I must mention that I went early on a weekday evening; perhaps, business picked up later on. Adding to my concerns is the fact that it's difficult to spot Cafe Suron if you aren't looking for it: The restaurant is located just half a block east of Sheridan Road on Pratt, but isn't exactly visible from the main drag. I'm confident that once word gets out about the delightful setting and tasty menu, this charming gem could attract a generous crowd (but, um, not too much of crowd, of course).

C'mon, people, give Cafe Suron -- and Rogers Park, for that matter -- the love it deserves.

Cafe Suron is located at 1146 W. Pratt. It is permanently BYOB with a $4 corkage fee. Currently it is cash only, but credit cards will be accepted in the near future.

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Comments

Gordon / March 28, 2004 11:26 PM

You're not kidding about it being well-hidden! I live walking distance from Cafe Suron, and I've never even heard of it, let alone seen it. But your description of the Hawaiian tilapia just made my stomach grumble -- I'm going to have to check it out ASAP.

lacey / March 29, 2004 9:56 AM

I am so happy you reviewed Suron. I think they serve the best Persian food in Chicago (that I've tasted...forget Reza's, folks). They've been in business for about 2 years and often it is empty-ish, as you observed. However, the good news is that they cater and to our office, they cater often. And, they deliver, as well! A tangent: the fessenjan is soooooo tasty but yes, you do need the white rice to mellow it down. The pomegranite sauce is really sweet--not earthy-tasting as it is known to taste elsewhere. I think it really shows the true persian style--timing, and waiting until all the flavors are at perfection.

Vegetarians--be sure to try the gormeh sabzi!

aimee / March 30, 2004 10:11 AM

I'm glad they are still in business. I went there for my birthday almost two years ago, and was afraid it wouldn't be able to weather the strange market up there. Try the saffron chicken!

 

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