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Review Wed Jan 27 2010

African Cuisine Made Modern in Lakeview

bolatscallops.jpgThe stretch of Clark Street just north of Belmont Avenue might be called International Restaurant Row. Over two blocks, one can peruse the menus of establishments serving French-Italian, Indian, Japanese, Moroccan and Thai food. I traveled to this sliver of Lakeview recently to eat from the continent of Africa.

To describe the cuisine served at Bolat as "pan-African" seems unfair; there is nothing cursory about the cooking here. We started with fried yam accompanied by three dipping sauces. Served hot and crispy, the yam was the perfect vehicle for the creamy and piquant peanut sauce, zippy yet nuanced fried pepper dip and black sauce punctuated by some serious smoke. Jerk chicken drumsticks were tangy and verdant over mounds of soothing coconut rice. Ayamshe, a stew made of fish stock, tender, roasted goat with charred bits, hunks of tripe and melon seeds, sung mildly sour notes with an impressive crescendo of heat.

Seared scallops held aloft by sautéed spinach on fufu pillows were beautiful but lacked depth of flavor and textural contrast. Two mounds of black-eyed pea mash were prepared respectively with the same peanut and black sauces served with the fried yam, which left me hankering to use the mash as a spread. I ended up smearing it on leftover fried yam to pleasing ends.

For dessert, the textural juxtaposition presented by curry ice cream topped with toasted, shredded coconut struck me as unnecessarily complicated as the glass funnel over a flask of ice in which it was served. Kashata na berri, coconut brittle drizzled with chocolate syrup, was simple and satisfying but likely a boon to dentists.

The small and large plates portions of Bolat's menu will change seasonally, with new offerings slated for late February. Vegetarians visiting Bolat can eat heartily as the majority of dishes can be prepared without meat. The spice-averse may have a less easy time.

Bolat is a culinary gem hidden in plain sight. Chef James Kerwin is bringing a level of technical skill, dynamism and modern interpretation to African cuisine that is entirely new to Chicago. Coupled with Gregory Williams' inventive cocktails, Bolat should be a destination. The restaurant is located at 3346 N Clark St, 773-665-1100.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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