Category Archives: Ethnic Picks

Where to find the best ethnic food in Chicago

Folklore Argentine Grill

Unique Wine Pairings at Folklore Argentine Grill

Folklore is the latest concept by the team behind Tango Sur in Lakeview, a Chicago institution that to this day boasts two-hour waits for tables fifteen years after its launch. Known for its authentic Argentina cuisine, the original concept evolved from the butcher shop next door, El Mercado Meat Market, which expanded into a restaurant once the son of its immigrant owners came of age. The owners, now mentors to the family restaurant group run mostly by their children, brought their knowledge of Argentina traditions to Chicago through their restaurants, which became known not just for their grilled meats, but for a BYOB policy that allowed generations of steak and red wine lovers to indulge freely without breaking the bank.

The newest incarnation of the dining group brings wine and cocktails to the multi-unit operation, but keeps the spirit of free-flowing drinking still going by serving the affordable and drinkable wines their youthful clientele seem to prefer. At the same time, as their customers become more sophisticated, so does the wine list, which bar manager Pablo Javier continues to evolve, in keeping with the newer styles and varietals coming from the emerging wine markets of Argentina and Chile.

The wine list is limited to Argentina, Chilean, Spanish and Portuguese wine selections, a rare focus that allows for a wide range of selections in its categories. Because of its specialized nature, the list can afford to include multiple selections of the most popular varietals growing in those countries – there are seven Malbec offerings alone. And while the big fruit bombs beloved by Folklore’s faithful clientele remain ever popular, the newer inclusions on the menu veer in the direction of Bordeaux-Style blends.

The restaurant itself looks like Argentina suspended in a certain era in time and sensibility. Full of leather, wood, natural artifacts and fall foliage, a single white candle glows from each of the thick wooden tables. Loud with the boisterous sounds of a mostly young and South American clientele, the place bustles with the dream of old-time Argentina haunts. Staffed almost exclusively by Latino employees, servers are knowledgeable in Argentina wine and cuisine, and hospitable and accommodating to a fault. Everything about the place supports a vision of Argentina, flanked by a wine list with unusual varietal selections and a breadth of offerings.

The original list was conceived by Jason Norman, owner of now-shuttered Telegraph notoriety, and is now run by Pablo Javier, an industry veteran who worked alongside Norman since Folklore’s opening. Some of Norman’s strongest picks remain on the list – the Mendel, the Tikal, La Posta and the Cocina Blend—wines Javier believes are indicative of the region and what it shows best. At the same time, he continues to evolve the list in keeping with some of the newer expressions emerging in the region, yet stays close to the original spirit of the wine program, one that continually seeks out new wines and varietals that show great quality at truly affordable prices.

One of the other changes instituted by Javier was putting more descriptive language on the menu. As Javier puts it, “People can’t always relate to talks about winemakers and how long they’ve been around. What they want to know is what the wine tastes like. Not everyone has a vocabulary for wine.”

The list Javier put together reflects the dual challenge of keeping customers happy who are in love with a particular grape or a fruity style, while introducing them to what else South America has to offer. “I think people have this idea of what Argentina and Chilean wines are about, because of what they’ve been doing for the last 20 years (as in Malbec). I don’t think they realize that there’s a shift in the wine culture coming out of South America,” he says. The wine list at Folklore showcases a number of wines that pair well with the broad range of offerings on the menu.

Check out some suggested wine pairings

Rau Muong

Rau muống – the Spinach of Vietnam

Argyle Street is the bustling capital of Vietnamese food in Chicago, and I certainly go there whenever a good bowl of pho is in order, but I would venture to say that the best Vietnamese food in Chicago can be found at Hoanh Long, where the closest it comes to having an Asian neighbor is the Panda Express in the shopping mall across the street.

Despite the obscure location, Hoanh Long has plenty of admirers, many for its pho among other popular Vietnamese dishes, but I wouldn’t know anything about those, since I cannot get past ordering the two outrageously delicious dishes that are the reason I come here in the first place.

The first object of my admiration is the deceptively simply named “Chicken Salad” or  Goi Ga in Vietnamese, which is not at all like the one coming from the deli counter of a grocery store, although the name does conjure up those images. Thick with shredded chicken, this salad is a tumbleweed of carrots, cabbage and mild onions, dripping with the typical southeast Asian flavor profile of sweet, sour and spicy flavors. A shower of finely chopped peanuts, fried shallots and shrimp crackers crown the dish, adding depth, crunch and flavor.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad
Vietnamese Chicken Salad

This was my only go-to dish for the longest time, until one day I was joined by a friend who lived in Hawaii seventeen years. She requested the Rau Muong, translated as stir fried water spinach with minced garlic, a favorite of hers from the island days. It seemed pricy at $8.95 for just a vegetable but once I tasted it, I’ve never not ordered it again. And it’s a good deal anyway – the giant platter of leafy greens, including both the crunchy stems and wilted leaves, is satisfying in a way that’s unexpected. Since then, I’ve returned the favor and shared this dish with many a friend, and I’ve yet to meet someone who wasn’t both surprised and delighted.

A tropical plant reputed to grow several inches in a day, rau moung is is staple vegetable of Vietnam cuisine. You can buy a bunch on Argyle Street at Tai Nam  for a few dollars, but ask for Ong Choy, its Chinese name, or look at this photo so you know what to buy.

greens in package no good
Rau Muong