The Book of the Jaguar Priest

By Carmen Schmidt |

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Eco-minded Mexican, Middle Eastern fire-roasted meats, and take-home bags full of scrumptious Italian are the subjects of this week’s Check, Please!

Bring your taste for flavorful dishes, but leave your credit card at home when you visit Chilam Balam, a restaurant with a serious philosophy about its food and its business. Formerly of Frontera Grill/Topolobampo, Executive Chef and Co-Owner Chuy Valencia has taken traditional Mexican inspired dishes up a notch with his flavorful small plates. PJ Powers, our returning All-Star guest reviewer, enthusiastically introduced us to Chalam Balam. This restaurant, like many we’ve featured on Check, Please!, has the goal of using locally-sourced and sustainable products in all their dishes so you will get a true farm-to-table experience. The menu changes regularly according to what’s in season, and Chef Chuy knows his food producers well. Check out their website and you’ll see a listing of the Illinois and Wisconsin farmers that Chalam Balam relies on for its fresh ingredients. But that’s not where the mission ends for this restaurant. Chalam Balam doesn’t want to add to the national debt crisis, so bring your cash! Credit cards are not accepted. An admirable mission, but not an easy one for a society that is used to whipping out the plastic. As guest reviewer Taryn suggested, few people carry that much cash anymore, but the meal was well worth it.

A side note about the restaurant’s name: Chalam Balam doesn’t sound like it comes from the Spanish language so I was curious to learn where they got the name and why they chose it. Chalam Balam, loosely translated from the Mayan language, means the “Book of the Jaguar Priest.” The name refers to the Mayan prophecy that the Earth’s cycle will end in 2012. This is a bit scary – who names their restaurant after the end-of-days? But, I guess if you consider their logic, it makes sense: Chalam Balam’s philosophy is that we need to become a more “green-minded” society before we use up all of Mother Nature’s gifts. We need to reboot soon.

Alas, the flavorful dishes, unique entrance, and eco-minded approach of Chalam Balam didn’t win over guest reviewer Mohammad. Small plates are not his cup of tea and he wasn’t shy about saying so. Some prefer more meat with their spice, like the offerings at Mohammad’s preferred recommendation, Al Bawadi Grill in Bridgeview. Al Bawadi Grill is one of the reasons I wish we had smell-o-vision. Guest reviewer Taryn told us that as she arrived at the restaurant and opened her car door, she immediately began to salivate as she was engulfed by the aroma of fire-roasted seasoned meats. My apologies to my vegetarian friends, but that sounds terrific! Especially since it’s too cold to consider barbequing right now.

Each of our guest reviewers were delighted with Viaggio, an Italian restaurant in the West Loop that serves hearty dishes of homemade pasta, hand-made sausage, and meatball salad along with a heaping-helping of Italian family charm. Mohammad even found his long-lost Italian roots at Viaggio! They all agreed that if you visit Viaggio, you’ll eat big and take home lots of leftovers. You’re also going to want to take home “Uncle Mike,” the best Italian waiter in town! He’s helpful, attentive, humorous, and makes your dining experience wonderful! (No ladies, I don’t know if he’s married!)

I hope you’ll agree that this is another fun show with some exciting and varied culinary adventures. I encourage you to give them all a try and let us know what you think. And while you’re at it, try making some more eco-friendly choices too. That Jaguar Priest thing scares me!

Carmen M. Schmidt
Associate Producer, Check, Please!
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