Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Chicago Dining World Tour: A Nearby Location for Haitian Placation

Kizin Creole
(formerly Chez Violette)
2311 W. Howard, Chicago
Yelp page

What I ate: Pate (appetizer), Fried Plantains, Griyo, Pineapple Cake

Although it is rather unique and was ultimately satisfying—if not quite sensational—Kizin Creole isn't a place I'd suggest going on a first date.

Or even with anyone particularly particular.

Located in a low-lit storefront on the south side of a rather nondescript section of Howard St. between Ridge and Western, it isn't easy to find. I drove past it, back and forth, as least four times, despite knowing the address.

Of course, it didn't help that the sign—which still says Chez Violette, the restaurant's former name—also was unlit.

As far as I could tell, there is no parking lot nor street parking on any stretch of Howard near the restaurant. I parked on a side street across Howard, and waited about 5 minutes until it was safe to cross.

The restaurant is surprisingly large and has several nice pieces of (presumably Haitian) art, but maintains a bit of a scattershot, unfinished feeling.

Though there were only two other tables in use when I arrived, it took a good while to be greeted and service throughout my meal was rather slow.

And while I enjoyed the recorded Haitian music that accompanied my meal, even if one's companion didn't mind the musical stylings, it's possible they might not relish the volume at which it was played. 

So it was probably for the best that I visited Kizin Creole alone on a Friday night, with no time constraints and an understanding that some small-operation-ethnic-restaurants may not always dazzle with their “production values.”

I was served by a friendly waiter who helped guide me to two appetizers. One was Pate, not to be confused with pâté.

This was a "savory and flaky Haitian patty flavored with a blend of Caribbean spices. Choice of Proteins available in Chicken. Beef, Vegetables."

I chose beef. Although the shell wasn't really like that of an empanada--part of many Caribbean and Central/South American cuisines--the concept was similar. And it tasted very good.

So did the Fried Plantains, or as it said on the menu and my receipt, Bannann Peze.

These came in a choice of salty or sweet, and though I don't recall having specifically selecting salty, that's what I got.

I pretty much love plantains of any ilk, be they fried, sweet, salty, etc., and I sufficiently enjoyed what I got, but felt the plantains--which were more solid than soft--could have used some kind of dipping sauce.

The waiter indicated that there was no standard sauce or dip they had to accompany the plantains, but offered and brought some pork gravy I would use with my entree.

Other than providing something a bit wet to soften up the plantains, this wasn't much of a solution.

I was also a bit perplexed by the--as warned by the waiter--extremely spicy Haitian cole slaw that came with the plantains. Now normally, if you asked me how spicy I like things on a scale of 1-to-10, I would say about 4. I like some flavor but not disintegrating my taste buds.

Well, this cole slaw went to 11. And I just had a tiny taste. 

If Haitians or other patrons of Kizin Creole enjoy it, more power to them, but it didn't do me much good.

Shame, too, because I usually enjoy cole slaw and theoretically would have wanted to try a Haitian rendition.

Even more inedible--for me--cole slaw came with my main course, which was Griyo = Fried Pork seasoned and marinated cubed pork shoulder fried to perfection. Served with choice of side, Haitian slaw and a small salad. 

I got the Griyo with rice & beans, which not being too overpopulated by kidney beans (which I don't really enjoy), were rather tasty.

The pork wasn't bad, but a bit bland. The cubes weren't deep fried like Chinese sweet & sour pork, but without much apparent batter were somehow fried to the point of being hard on the outside and relatively soft on the inside.

Employing the gravy, the pork was edible, but not really incredible. The rice & beans made my entree worthwhile--and some leftover pork made for a decent second meal--but the griyo is probably not something I would order again.

For a beverage, I chose something that was listed on the menu as Fruit Juice, and on my receipt as Ji Grenadya with Milk (it can also be made with water).

I ordered the Passion Fruit variety and the result was rather similar to the Jugos en Leche I had had at La Parrilla, a Colombian steakhouse. As I said then, the result was something between a milkshake and smoothie, and rather delectable.

I was probably full enough not to need dessert but was intriqued by Gato Ayisyen = Pineapple Cake. This wasn't on the menu but cited to me by a waitress who seemingly had taken over for the waiter (or was at least assisting him).

Pineapple is one of my very favorite of all flavors and the cake was surprisingly moist for a rather solid looking hunk.

I didn't finish it all, but it went well with the leftovers I would consume on a subsequent night.

All in all, Kizin Creole fit in well with the (unwritten) manifesto of my Chicago Dining World Tour, which involves discovering and trying local restaurants representing different cultures, the more unique or exotic the better.

It was explained to me that Kizin Creole is under new management from the former Chez Violette, so while they seemingly have some wrinkles to iron out, I hope they do. This is the type of mom & pop-seeming establishment I enjoy supporting, so I look forward to a return visit--with some alternate menu choices--somewhere down the line.

Even if again, all by myself. 

No comments: