Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: Badou Provides a Good Welcome to Senegalese Cuisine

Badou Senegalese Cuisine
2055 Howard St., Chicago

What I ate: Fataya (appetizer); Yassa Djen; Thiebou Djen; Ginger Cocktail

Badou, a restaurant featuring cuisine from Senegal, has only existed in Chicago--within a strip mall along Howard, one block east of Ridge--since shortly before I began my Chicago Dining World Tour at the beginning of this year.

But not only is it precisely the type of place I wanted to explore on my gastro-ethnic expedition, but one that I truly hope can succeed for many years to come.

Having discovered it through Yelp--I think originally relating to a search for Ethiopian restaurants--I went to Badou on Friday night along with my mom.

We were the only patrons when we arrived around 6:30, and after being welcomed by a friendly woman, we were greeted by an even friendlier man whose name turned out to be Badou.

Badou appears to not only be the proprietor of his namesake restaurant, but its chef and waiter. But as we discovered, he is really less of a waiter than a personal culinary adviser.

Rather than come and take our order, Badou sat down at our table, established that this was our first foray into Senegalese cuisine and warmly told us we needed to order Pastel as an appetizer, which the menu describes as crispy pastry filled with marinated chicken sauteed in tomato and onion sauce.

Upon telling him that I don't eat chicken as I'm allergic, he said I could get the fish version. But in asking his female counterpart, Paula, if they had fish pastels, she said no.

So he said he'd make some.

Paula later explained that the fish version of the Pastel is called a Fataya, and in looking at the menu now, a beef Fataya is listed, which would have been fine too.

Turns out that the Fataya, whose description differs from the Pastel based only on the filling, is largely like an empanada.

I've enjoyed empanadas, or something similar, as part of several cultural cuisines (Argentinean, Peruvian, Costa Rican, Jamaican, Venezuelan, etc.) and the Fataya--we got three in a single appetizer order--didn't disappoint.

The fish on the inside was minced, but it was terrifically seasoned and quite delicious. It had a bit of a kick, but nothing too overwhelming.

For a beverage, I ordered a Ginger Cocktail, a non-alcoholic homemade ginger drink with pineapple.

I had high hopes for this, as I love pineapple and enjoy ginger in small doses, but the ginger flavoring was far too strong and sharp for my tastes. But this was the only part of our meal for which I didn't much care.

For an entree, the jovial Badou recommended Yassa, which comes in Guinar or Djen versions, essentially chicken or tilapia infused with lime and caramelized onion

Given that my mom and I were going to share this, and another entree--though it turned out one would have been sizable enough--we got the Tilapia (Djen) edition. 

Though not noted in the description, the dish also includes rice, and the mixture of the carmelized onions, fragrant spices and the fish & rice was wonderfully tasty. 

Via some Yelp reviews, I had noted another entree called Thiebou Djen, which the menu describes as the Senegalese national dish. It features Djolof rice, which was a richly seasoned red, with vegetables mixed in. It is listed on Badou's vegetarian menu, but as "Djen" seems to mean fish, Badou also pointed out the non-veg version which includes a fish fillet. 

The Thiebou Djen arrived at our table after we had already dug into the Yassa Djen, and with an appetizer as well, we likely didn't really need it or give it proper heed. 

That said, it was very good--the fish had a nice glaze on the side not shown in the photo--and the rice itself was probably better than that of the Yassa. 

As I write this, I have Thiebou Djen leftovers in my fridge that I am looking forward to eating, and that's after re-warmed Yassa proved quite tasty a second time. 

Though I had to look up Senegal on my iPhone while at Badou to see where it sits along Africa's west coast, I am glad I discovered a Senegalese outpost on Chicago's north side. 

While we were eating, a few other customers came in, and also got Badou's personal table-side consultation. So this is truly an ethnically-unique restaurant that aims to please, and I'm pleased to report that it did.

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