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La Casa de Samuel: Exotica Guerrerensia et Ordinaria Mundana

La Casa de Samuel: Exotica Guerrerensia et Ordinaria Mundana
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  • La Casa de Samuel: Exotica Guerrerensia et Ordinaria Mundana

    Post #1 - January 3rd, 2005, 12:39 pm
    Post #1 - January 3rd, 2005, 12:39 pm Post #1 - January 3rd, 2005, 12:39 pm
    La Casa de Samuel
    Exotica Guerrerensia et Ordinaria Mundana


    Since moving to the so-called Tri-Taylor neighbourhood a few months ago, I've been lucky enough to make some new friends who are as passionate about cooking and eating as I am. One of the persons in question is a Mexican immigrant who hails from Guerrero and is an especially interesting figure with whom I have a fair amount in common. Indeed, we met in a local tavern where we found ourselves sitting side by side, both largely ignoring the mayhem and hijinks around us and instead doing our best to read the books we had brought along. José, who was reading Nietzsche, stopped to ask me what I was reading, which happened also to be something German, and we so struck up a conversation that started with Nietzsche, went on to Schopenhauer, proceeded thence to Cervantes and Lorca, and ended up with a long and still on-going discussion of comparative cuisine, largely (but not exclusively) revolving around analyses of the gastronomic aesthetics of Mexico and Italy. José is one of those people whom one cannot help but admire for the way in which he has educated himself to a remarkable degree while working all his life long hours in a job where German philosophy and Spanish literature are not all that relevant and likely not especially prized. He is also a man who is extraordinarily proud of his national and regional background and sees the cuisine of his native Guerrero as one of the central cultural elements of his life and something which he very much wants to share with any and all persons who might appreciate it.

    It was on José's recommendation that Amata, Lucantonius and I went to La Casa de Samuel for the first time, back on a dreary Saturday afternoon in late November. When we arrived there was only one other table occupied in the large dining room, which has booths along the western and eastern walls, tables in the middle, a full service, somewhat set-off bar in the back beside the door to the kitchen, and a cooking station in the southeastern corner, beside and fully visible from the outside through the front window and partially visible to the main dining area. A waitress quickly attended to us with a broad smile and in Spanish and, following her lead, we communicated throughout in that language. Whether she or the other waitresses at this establishment can speak much English is unknown to us, for they consistently have dealt with us in Spanish but an older waiter, Sergio, who has served us once, was rather loquacious and funny and spoke to us in English peppered jocularly with flowery phrases of politesse in Italian and French (mais bien sûr!).

    With regard to food, the very first experience set a good tone: the waitress brought us fresh chips and an outstanding red salsa served in a large molcajete which had a welcome kick to it. As we navigated our ways through the surprisingly extensive menu, we asked the waitress if she might recommend a botana and she did, returning with the recommendation a few minutes later, a good sized portion of crispy, salty fried smelts (charales), accompanied by a plate of lime wedges and two bottles of hot sauce (Tabasco and Tamazula); they were quite tasty and a nice way to start a meal.

    For our main dishes we decided on the following: Lucantonius opted for his signature taco de carne asada sin nada (that is to say, au naturel); Amata ordered a huarache de carne asada and I chose the cecina de venado, that is, cured thin slices of venison, a specialty of the uplands of the State of Guerrero and one of the signature dishes of La Casa de Samuel. Now, as we sat there snacking on our charales and awaiting the main course, we discovered why there was a cooking station beside the front window of the restaurant, for an elderly woman appeared from the kitchen, strode across the dining room to that cooking station, and sat down to the task of producing a nice steaming stack of fresh, handmade tortillas for us, as well as Amata's huarache (I'm sure though I didn't actually see her make it).

    When our main dishes arrived and we had the chance to dig in, we were not disappointed. The huarache was excellent, with the thick fried base of masa dressed with a smear of beans, a green sauce, a generous portion of chopped steak, shredded lettuce and cheese. Lucantonius' taco was similarly richly endowed with carne asada and presented in the homey swaddling clothes of a supremely fresh and tasty tortilla. As for my cecina de venado, I found it absolutely delicious. The very ample portion of the cecina came on a large platter with some lettuce, onion and tomato, simple frijoles de olla, a nice heap of chunky guacamole with tomato, and a large stack of those freshly made tortillas. The flavour of the meat was really noteworthy, with an intense, dark aspect that stood up beautifully to the other flavours I added to the tacos I made. All in all, this is one of the best Mexican meals I've had in Chicago.

    On subsequent visits to La Casa de Samuel, Amata and I have tried a number of other items; among them were the following:
    sopa de ajo: garlic soup, with tomato in the broth, served with slices of French bread bearing melted (presumably Mennonita) cheese. This was very delicious and more filling than I would have expected; it's also a simple dish that in my experience rarely turns up on local restaurant menus.
    caldo de pollo estilo de Teloloapan: a rich broth with at least a quarter of a chicken, served with a nice array of fresh condiments (chopped onion, cilantro, lime, etc.).
    gorditas estilo D.F., de queso y de carne asada: these gorditas are really good and more to my liking than some of the smaller, thicker and usually very greasy ones that one commonly finds around town. The size is more that of a regular size tortilla and it is in form somewhat like a piece of pocket pita.
    huevos con aporreado: eggs scrambled and served with shredded beef (that's the aporreado, a word also apparently used sometimes for ropa vieja) and a green sauce, served with very good refried beans and nicely moist arroz a la Mexicana.
    huarache al pastor: a huarache just as described above but with the seasoned pork al pastor. This dish was very tasty and in general I would say that their huaraches themselves are really good, but all in all, Amata and I agreed that the al pastor version was not as good as the one with carne asada, which was outstanding.
    licuado de plátano: a very rich sweet drink flavoured with cinnamon.

    According to my friend, José, the people of Guerrero are quite fond of eating a number of meats that to varying degrees may seem somewhat out of the ordinary and La Casa de Samuel bears this claim out well. Indeed, there is definitely something of an exotic streak to this restaurant, in that it offers not only the aforementioned cecina de venado, but also baby eels, rattle snake, alligator, quail, goat, bull's testicles, wild boar (jabalí), and, though they don't appear on the menu, occasionally also ostrich and iguana. Check for availability.

    In addition to the exotica Guerrerensia, La Casa de Samuel, living up to its claim to offer cocina international, also offers some dishes outside the traditional Mexican kitchen but likely presumably things that are eaten with a fair amount of frequency in restaurants in Mexico, such as spaghetti alla Bolognese, that is, fairly ordinary international dishes.

    To my knowledge, La Casa de Samuel has not been mentioned on LTH. Some internet research did, however, bring to light a few posts by RST on the Chicago board of Planet Leff, dating back to the fall of 2002. Richard comments specifically on both the presence of international dishes on the menu as well as the exotic items. Here is a link to one of those posts with a brief but general assessment of this restaurant by him: RST on Casa de Samuel. His overall impression of the place is not strongly negative but not very enthusiastic either: "The food is not awful, and is inexpensive enough, but it is not inspiring either, by any stretch of the imagination."

    In my assessment I would respectfully disagree (and, of course, things can have changed in the past two years) and say that La Casa de Samuel is very much worth trying. Though I suspect they may well offer some dishes (e.g. the al pastor) that one can find made far better elsewhere, they seem to do a fine job on many basic Mexican restaurant offerings, and in addition they offer some things that they do very well and that simply aren't all that common in similar places around Chicago. All in all, I am inclined to think of this place as standing in the following analogical relationship: as Nuevo Leon is to Norteño cooking, La Casa de Samuel is to Guerrerense cooking. This place has its specialities and for my money, I can think of no better inexpensive Mexican restaurant meal than an appetizer of charales followed by a platter of cecina de venado with their chunky guacamole and a stack of steaming, handmade tortillas fresh off the comal. Que rico!

    Antonius

    ________
    The location I have visited and what I believe is their main location is listed first below; the addresses of their three other locations are listed further on:

    La Casa de Samuel
    2834 West Cermak
    Chicago, IL 60623
    773-376-7474

    Other locations:
    2047 North Milwaukee, Chicago
    2753 West 55th Street, Chicago
    120 North Genesee, Waukegan

    Post-site-move character problems fixed (two edits).
    Last edited by Antonius on May 5th, 2005, 6:25 am, edited 2 times in total.
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #2 - January 3rd, 2005, 2:19 pm
    Post #2 - January 3rd, 2005, 2:19 pm Post #2 - January 3rd, 2005, 2:19 pm
    Antonius thanks for the post. A few months ago, I was on a jury. One of my fellow jurors was Guerrerese and a bit of a hound to boot--we vehemently argued over which Islas Marias was better Cicero/Grand or Logan Square (he thinks the latter). La Casa de Samuel was his tip for me. I wish I would have remembered now that I see your report.

    Also, I believe Guerrerese are well repersented in Chicago and Chicago Mexican restaurants. My perenial talk-about La Quebrada is Guererrese (La Quebrada being the cliffs of Acupulco), the stand of the famed Masa Maddona at Maxwell Street is Guerrerese, the famed Maroon and Blue vans are likewise (any recent experiences anyone?), and of course, our LTH favorite upscale Mex-Chef, Geno Bahana hails from that part of Mexico.

    Rob
  • Post #3 - January 3rd, 2005, 2:20 pm
    Post #3 - January 3rd, 2005, 2:20 pm Post #3 - January 3rd, 2005, 2:20 pm
    A,

    This place sounds fantastic. I've had game on the brain all morning, so the venison is especially appealing (as is the iguana and ostrich).

    La Quebrada, which also serves the cuisine of Guerrero, prepares their own tortillas, too, and I'm a sucker for any place that will make that effort...and there's no comparison between fresh and store-bought tortillas (no matter how "fresh").

    The liquado di platano is new to me, though I'm imagining the taste is somewhat like horchata, no.

    Hammond
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #4 - January 3rd, 2005, 2:30 pm
    Post #4 - January 3rd, 2005, 2:30 pm Post #4 - January 3rd, 2005, 2:30 pm
    Hi David,

    the main flavor in that licuado is banana, and licuados in general are sweetened milk blended with a fruit. Strawberry (fresa) is another common flavor. It was the touch of cinnamon in the one I had at Casa de Samuel that set it off from licuados I've had elsewhere.

    Amata
  • Post #5 - January 3rd, 2005, 3:05 pm
    Post #5 - January 3rd, 2005, 3:05 pm Post #5 - January 3rd, 2005, 3:05 pm
    VI, DH:

    The Guerrerense folks are indeed serious about their food, without doubt. Now, I suppose one can say that about every region of Mexico but for us in Chicago, they and their cuisine are especially prominent and particularly so in the eastern part of La Villita where La Casa de Samuel is located.

    It's a real joy to talk to my friend José about his region's cuisine. He gets very excited and happy remembering dishes and meals from back home and also shares generously recipes that he makes. He's also given me some tips about shopping for ingredients which I still need to follow up on.

    About La Casa de Samuel, as I said, I suspect it quite possible to get a thoroughly uninspiring meal there, but I do think the cecina de venado and the beef cecina Guerrero style are great bets. And as also mentioned above, the menu is extensive and Amata and I have only scratched the surface but I feel sure further exploration is worthwhile. And as I'm sure we all agree, fresh tortillas are a tremendous plus and the quality and style of the gorditas and huaraches, more masa products, are noteworthy.

    A
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #6 - January 3rd, 2005, 3:34 pm
    Post #6 - January 3rd, 2005, 3:34 pm Post #6 - January 3rd, 2005, 3:34 pm
    So when are we going?
  • Post #7 - January 3rd, 2005, 4:00 pm
    Post #7 - January 3rd, 2005, 4:00 pm Post #7 - January 3rd, 2005, 4:00 pm
    Hmmm... I have some leftover brandade de morue that was scheduled for being turned into fish cakes but, come to think of it, something with fresh tortillas might be more exciting... Let me consult with the other Tri-Taylor-hams...

    :D

    A
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #8 - January 3rd, 2005, 7:05 pm
    Post #8 - January 3rd, 2005, 7:05 pm Post #8 - January 3rd, 2005, 7:05 pm
    I consistently pass a location of La Casa de Samuel on my way to the 51st and California La Quebrada. Frankly, the place looks quite uninspiring; there's nearly never anyone in there, and the faded pictures of American food (pancakes and hamburgers) in the front windows can be disconcerting. But Antonius says it's actually good. Or could the quality vary widely by location? I'm looking forward to trying cecina de venado.
  • Post #9 - January 3rd, 2005, 8:19 pm
    Post #9 - January 3rd, 2005, 8:19 pm Post #9 - January 3rd, 2005, 8:19 pm
    Evan B. Druce wrote:I consistently pass a location of La Casa de Samuel on my way to the 51st and California La Quebrada. Frankly, the place looks quite uninspiring; there's nearly never anyone in there, and the faded pictures of American food (pancakes and hamburgers) in the front windows can be disconcerting...


    That description doesn't inspire much confidence... Try the one on Cermak first... No traces of panqueques or humburgueses there (though there are espaghetti and ostiones Roquefeller)...

    :)

    A
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #10 - January 3rd, 2005, 11:50 pm
    Post #10 - January 3rd, 2005, 11:50 pm Post #10 - January 3rd, 2005, 11:50 pm
    A, you must mean hamburguesas, espaguetis y pancakes. Attention must be paid to these things. :wink:

    The place sounds great. I like cesina, I like venison. What could be better. Maybe with some cold Cazadores.
  • Post #11 - January 4th, 2005, 11:54 am
    Post #11 - January 4th, 2005, 11:54 am Post #11 - January 4th, 2005, 11:54 am
    Antonius,

    I am glad you mentioned all the addresses of this restaurant. Once I have my new digital camera, then I am up there to offer my report.

    There is a small chain of Mexican restaurants called Tacos el Norte. I frequent Highwood regularly, though my favorite outpost is in Waukegan. I have learned the different restaurants are owned by various siblings who run them independent of each other. For examples, I like their Pozole. In Highwood, I can buy a small bowl for $6. In Waukegan, the same size is $3 and a bathtub sized bowl is $6. Other items are not so dramatically different, but you do feel a different hand is making the key decisions.

    I am hoping the Waukegan outpost of 'La Casa de Samuel' will reflect Antonius' experience. If not, well that is news, too.

    Destination dining in Waukegan! I love it!
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #12 - January 4th, 2005, 12:14 pm
    Post #12 - January 4th, 2005, 12:14 pm Post #12 - January 4th, 2005, 12:14 pm
    Hi all--

    I have actually been to the Waukegan outpost of La Casa de Samuel, though only for breakfast, but it seems very promising. My in-laws live in Waukegan, a couple of miles north of downtown, and while visiting them I occasionally take my two-year-old on long walk/naps in the stroller heading toward downtown. One sunny day last summer I ended up on Genesee downtown and noticed a couple of tables set up on the sidewalk in front of La Casa de Samuel. I alit and ordered eggs and chorizo and was delighted that they came with obviously handmade, freshly cooked tortillas, with delicious little charred wisps. The eggs and chorizo were quite good as I recall, and I have been meaning to return for lunch or dinner sometime.

    La Casa de Samuel is very close to the newly restored Genesee Theater on Genesee and so would make for great pre-theater dining. There is also a relatively new used-CD/DVD store on Genesee that roasts coffee in the front of the store as well as a new cafe another block south that was closed when I walked by on Dec. 26 but that looks bright and nicely decorated.

    The beginnings of a Waukegan renaissance?

    Patrick
  • Post #13 - January 4th, 2005, 12:19 pm
    Post #13 - January 4th, 2005, 12:19 pm Post #13 - January 4th, 2005, 12:19 pm
    JeffB wrote:A, you must mean hamburguesas, espaguetis y pancakes. Attention must be paid to these things. :wink:


    Jeff:

    On the first two counts, I stand corrected ( :oops: :oops: ) -- I'll attribute the first error to French influence and the second to Italian and plead an advanced case of Babelism. On the third, however, I stand my ground; I've seen the form panqueques a couple of times on 'signage' around town and very much like it for its eccentricity... :wink:

    By the way, Case de Samuel also offers its Anglophone customers "turqui". :D

    ***

    Cathy:

    That would be swell if you could report on the Waukegan branch (which incidentally produces more hits on Google than the old Cermak location, presumably because it's newer). I must confess that I know nothing whatsoever about Waukegan but it sounds like they have a thriving Mexican community up there.

    ***

    I drove by the branch on 55th that Evan commented on above, located in that little cluster of businesses around the intersection of California and Garfield; it does indeed have some strange little photos pasted to the window but also prominently advertises the cecina de venado. I hope Evan or someone else gives it a try; in particular, I wonder whether they all have someone making fresh tortillas.

    ***

    As a further note about the Cermak location, the front cooking station is apparently only used on weekends. During the week, when there is, I surmise, less business and a concomitantly smaller staff, the tortilla maker just works back in the kitchen.

    Antonius
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #14 - January 4th, 2005, 12:24 pm
    Post #14 - January 4th, 2005, 12:24 pm Post #14 - January 4th, 2005, 12:24 pm
    The beginnings of a Waukegan renaissance?


    Everyone I know in Waukegan is aggressively working on it. I'm glad you are already witnessing the fruits of their labors.

    I've heard downtown Waukegan was still quite a hoping place into the 70's. It withered when malls started going up on the west side of town.

    I remember how dramatically the business climate changed in Highland Park, when Northbrook Court opened. Ten years ago, you could park anywhere in the downtown. Now it is challenging to park in the evening anywhere in the downtown. It took quite an effort to revive downtown Highland Park, which didn't slip as badly as Waukegan.

    I'm thrilled you visited already and have good vibes.
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #15 - January 4th, 2005, 6:33 pm
    Post #15 - January 4th, 2005, 6:33 pm Post #15 - January 4th, 2005, 6:33 pm
    The 55th Street Casa de Samuel also offers something called "Tortas estilo D.F." As the DF is so near to Puebla (as in Taqueria Puebla) I wonder if these are at all similar to the cemitas offered there.
  • Post #16 - January 4th, 2005, 8:44 pm
    Post #16 - January 4th, 2005, 8:44 pm Post #16 - January 4th, 2005, 8:44 pm
    Evan B. Druce wrote:The 55th Street Casa de Samuel also offers something called "Tortas estilo D.F." As the DF is so near to Puebla (as in Taqueria Puebla) I wonder if these are at all similar to the cemitas offered there.


    No. If I have time and skill, I might be able to find the Brilliant One's Chowhound post where he ran down the myriad of Mexican sammy's. But a cemita is not the same thing as a torta estillo DF. The later is pretty much what you have come to expect from a torta in Chicago--the squishy bun, depending on its oblongness as to whether it is called a tejero or a bollio (I hope I got my spelling right), and filled with lettuce, avocado, crema or mayonasa as well as the meat. The former (cemita) is a crustier and seeded bun (the cemita) greased with olive oil and typically also including Mexican herbs and white string cheese.

    Rob
  • Post #17 - January 4th, 2005, 9:17 pm
    Post #17 - January 4th, 2005, 9:17 pm Post #17 - January 4th, 2005, 9:17 pm
    VI,

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't a sammie D.F. (despite squishy bread) also usually grilled?

    Hammond
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #18 - January 5th, 2005, 3:15 pm
    Post #18 - January 5th, 2005, 3:15 pm Post #18 - January 5th, 2005, 3:15 pm
    I think that's a telera or a bolillo, the former being flatter and softer than the crusty, airy bolillo. Which reminds me...

    On Xmas day, the Cuban in-laws demanded that I transform the lechon into my process-patented Cuban/Lexington chopped pork. (They, like many Cubans I know, despise leftover lechon but will eat it if I mince it, mix it with tiny bits of chicharon and fry it until cotton-candy-like with lots of vinegar, leftover mojo and other stuff. PS, the naranjas agrias at La Unica produced spectacular juice this year.) Anyhoo, good bread was needed for these pan con lechon sammies. Nothing open, except the small carniceria on 75th just east of 355. The rolls that the abuela brought back were very, very close to the only true pambazos (yet another bread) I've had (in Santa Rosa). They made a hell of a sandwich pressed on my Xmas present, a Cuisinart press/griddle that is as close a home product as I have found to the traditional Cuban plancha.

    While I'm at it, I'll also mention that a big new Filipino store/deli just opened in the srtip mall on 75th just past 355 that includes Bosa donuts (Korean-run, LA-ish donut shop) and Frank's. The bland name, which is 3 letters, escapes me. Lots of very interesting steam-table stuff on hand. I just took some cheese bread and ran.

    Here's Richard's comprehensive post on the breads and sandwiches of Mexico:

    http://www.chowhound.com/midwest/boards ... 25327.html
  • Post #19 - January 12th, 2005, 11:22 am
    Post #19 - January 12th, 2005, 11:22 am Post #19 - January 12th, 2005, 11:22 am
    More on La Casa de Samuel

    Amata and I just had another opportunity to visit La Casa de Samuel with a couple of friends and went with the intention of trying a few more dishes. There were four adults in the group and, after some collective consultation, we all decided to share the four main dishes we would order while consuming a botana of charales, that is, fried smelts, which were again very much to my liking and are a great snack to go along with a nice cold beer.

    The four main dishes we got were: 1) cecina de venado; 2) güilota en salsa verde; 3) filete Azteca; 4) cabrito al horno. Here are some brief notes on these:

    1) cecina de venado: This signature dish for La Casa de Samuel has been described above and is in my estimation reason enough to visit this restaurant.

    2) güilota estilo Guerrero en salsa verde: quail with a green sauce that our waiter felt the need to warn us about, lest we be overcome by its piquancy. The bark was far greater than the bite and I would describe the sauce as rather mild but also tasty. The quail was good but such a little beast inevitably is partially overdone and even slightly charred by the time the breast is cooked. My Guerrerense informants seem especially fond of güilota and I suspect this intense fondness has to do in part with extra-culinary matters. It's a good dish and worth trying if you like quail. For the little birds, as with some of the other exotica, there are several options for preparation, to wit: en salsa roja, a la plancha, en salsa borracha o al mojo de ajo.

    3) filete de res Azteca: This dish is, I think, precisely the sort of dish that many initiates to the arcana of Mexican cuisine might turn their nose up to since it resembles dishes that are very Meximerican, versions of which even show up at that quintessential "neighbourhood" institution, Applebee's. Briefly, the dish features an architectonic element, with a base of a fried tortilla upon which rests a piece of filet mignon which is dressed in a chipotle sauce, then the meat is crowned with a slice of cheese that is melted under the broiler. In other words, it's steak with melted cheese... But this is, in fact, a real Mexican dish, at least within the world of restaurant cooking, and it can be quite delicious. Amata and I make it every once in a blue moon following the recipe offered by Patricia Quintana in her handsome and useful cookbook, The Taste of Mexico, under the name filete al chipotle; a picture of this dish adorns the book's cover. All in all, the version produced on this occasion at La Casa de Samuel, served with refried beans and rice, was good and if one is in the mood for such a dish, it seems a reasonable option, but Amata and I both feel that the chipotle sauce we produce following Quintana's recipe is far more flavourful than the one we got at the restaurant.

    4) cabrito al horno: Listed as one of the specialties of the house, this dish was for me the highlight of the evening. The goat was appropriately "goatish", very tender, and slightly dry, but combined with the nice guacamole that they make at La Casa de Samuel and the really tasty pasilla chile sauce (really more a paste) they serve with the goat, this is a delicious combination. The frijoles de olla and the tortillas only add to the pleasure...

    Yes, the fresh tortillas at La Casa de Samuel of course make everything served with them better and the maker on this occasion seemed to make them a wee bit thicker than they sometimes are; I like variation of that sort. In any event, I was once again very pleased with this restaurant but hope the others in attendance at this meal will offer their own impressions.

    Antonius
    Last edited by Antonius on February 25th, 2013, 11:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #20 - January 12th, 2005, 12:02 pm
    Post #20 - January 12th, 2005, 12:02 pm Post #20 - January 12th, 2005, 12:02 pm
    Antonius wrote:More on La Casa de Samuel

    In any event, I was once again very pleased with this restaurant but hope the others in attendance at this meal will offer their own impressions.

    Antonius


    Well, I too was quite pleased with the restaurant. I definately saw connections with my La Quebrada, both in menu and tortilla preperation, but the places are still complimentary not competetors (in my book).

    I pretty much agree with your assessment although I think I liked the quail more than you. The salsa verde was mild but nicely fruity. What I liked (second*) best:

    - The guacamole, chunky and just extra delicious
    - The variety of the menu
    - The truly expert way they fried the smelts
    - The tortillas
    - Warm service (although it helped that I was surrounded by people who spoke Spanish)

    What I thought were less good:

    - The table salsa, fresh but not very flavorful (Antonius commented on it being not as good as other times)
    - The whole frijoles (a la olla) - Needed some more pork fat

    *What was really best:

    - The various food debates engaged in during a meal that stretched nearly 4 hours including but not limited to:

    - How successful really are Moto, Trio, etc.
    - Does change in cuisine come slowly or in quantum leaps
    - Was there ever a "golden age" of Chowhound

    Rob
  • Post #21 - January 12th, 2005, 12:30 pm
    Post #21 - January 12th, 2005, 12:30 pm Post #21 - January 12th, 2005, 12:30 pm
    Vital Information wrote:*What was really best:

    - The various food debates engaged in during a meal that stretched nearly 4 hours...


    I forgot to mention too that the various interesting food debates were interrupted a couple of times by absurdly loud music played by the local wandering minstrels...

    About the güilota, I liked the flavour of the dish a lot but got a piece that had a high percentage of very crispy bits and lower percentage of tasty meat. I would definitely be willing to order it again.

    Great meal, great time...

    A
    Last edited by Antonius on February 25th, 2013, 11:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #22 - February 17th, 2005, 9:43 pm
    Post #22 - February 17th, 2005, 9:43 pm Post #22 - February 17th, 2005, 9:43 pm
    Hi,

    Promised sometime ago, I recently visited La Casa de Samuel at their Waukegan outpost. It was a spur of the moment decision, so I arrived without benefit of rereading Antonius' enthusiastic post; though I vividly recalled two items: handmade tortillas and venison.

    Downtown Waukegan was a hopping place this weeknight with 'Lord of the Dance' performing at the revitalized Genesee Theater with a flashy marquee. The street immediately in front of the theater was filled with trailers refitted as dressing rooms for dancers. There were flashing police cars, officers on horses and ground directing traffic. On first pass, we found La Casa de Samuel about a block south of the theater. Quite a few people were just inside the restaurant, I feared we might have to wait for a table. No sign of parking, I feared we would have to postpone our visit. On the third try, we finally located parking a very short walk from the restaurant. Ten years ago, you could have rolled a bowling ball down Genesee Street at night; this was a delightful improvement.

    Walking into La Casa de Samuel, we quickly learned all those people were hanging out at the bar watching a sports channel. The restaurant in the rear only had one table occupied. We took a table to the rear in front of a dazzling Aztec sundial. We sat down and began reviewing the menu, which was dazzling in its own right: eels, frog legs, deer, bulls testicles, rattlesnake, wild boar, alligator and ostrich made the usual exotica of goat, rabbit and quail seem so tame; and ordinary chicken, beef and red snapper just so yesterday.

    Since it was just two of us, and I wasn't hungry from a late lunch, I had to remind myself I was here for compatibility so a taste would do. We decided to lightly test drive the menu to see if we found the food promising for the future. For appetizers, Calamari al Ajillo Calamari sautéed in fresh hot garlic sauce, which arrived with three lime wedges. We could smell the garlic when it arrived, though there wasn't any garlic sauce present. Consider it a Mexican version of salt and pepper shrimp without salt nor pepper, though thinly dressed and fried with chopped garlic. A very, very dry preparation, which badly needed the moisture from the limes, which I squeezed aggressively to extract as much juice as possible. Admittedly the calamari was not cooked to rubber and it could have used a (garlic) sauce, though I realize the description provided may have been flawed. [I was told I was too generous, it was overcooked and dried out.]

    Next up was Ostones en su Concha oysters in their shell accompanied by three limes. I usually have my first oyster as-is to gauge its flavor before adding anything else. The oyster had no taste, no fresh from the sea liveliness one expects from oysters. My friend joked, "Yep, these are oysters from the sink!" Where I chimed in, "Who are missing their friends in the sea." To finish these uninspired souls on their final journey, we added both salt and lime juice.

    We split the main course of Cecina de Venado Mexican deer served with pico de gallo, guacamole and beans. My food oriented self who was dazzled by the menu, hoping for many happy returns to check out more stuff, is praying this deer would redeem this meal. My friend nabbed the first bite and the nose wrinkled. I took a tortilla, not homemade as promised by the waitress, enclosed some deer meat with guacamole and pico de gallo, then took a bite. As my nose ever so slightly wrinkled, my friend finally said, "It tastes livery, doesn't it?" Gosh darn it, it did and it colored my reaction to that meat for what remained of it. Unfortunately, you cannot really plan a meal around guacamole and pico de gallo, as they were really good.

    Maybe someday I will visit the other La Casa de Samuel in the city, perhaps with those who were enthusiastic. There are so many other Mexican restaurants to explore in Waukegan; it will be a long time before I visit this outpost again.

    La Casa de Samuel
    120 North Genesee Street
    Waukegan, IL 60085
    Tel: 847/782-8700
    Sunday-Thursday: 8 AM - 10 PM
    Friday-Saturday: 8 AM - 2 AM
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #23 - February 18th, 2005, 11:24 am
    Post #23 - February 18th, 2005, 11:24 am Post #23 - February 18th, 2005, 11:24 am
    Hi Cathy2--

    I'm sorry to hear of your disappointment with the Waukegan location of Casa de Samuel. I have only eaten there for breakfast, but the tortillas were most definetely handmade that time. I don't know why they served you pre-made ones, especially when you asked directly about it. But it sounds like you put the kitchen through its paces and it failed to deliver on all counts.

    Patrick
  • Post #24 - February 18th, 2005, 11:30 am
    Post #24 - February 18th, 2005, 11:30 am Post #24 - February 18th, 2005, 11:30 am
    Hi Patrick,

    The sad part, I really wanted to like the place. It certainly is more convenient to hike up there, than to Chicago for interesting Mexican. Pancakes with honey on the breakfast menu sounded good.

    If you have any Waukegan recommendations, please write them up when you have time.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #25 - February 18th, 2005, 12:19 pm
    Post #25 - February 18th, 2005, 12:19 pm Post #25 - February 18th, 2005, 12:19 pm
    Hi Cathy2--

    One other interesting place that I have tried in Waukegan is the Salvadoran Pupuseria El Guanaco, on Greenwood. It's a short walk from my in-laws, but I've only managed to make it there once. I quite enjoyed it, although I have no point of reference, never having had pupusas anywhere else. As I recall, they also had a reasonably good ceviche. It's kind of a dim store front, with seating in the back and a counter up front selling various odds-and-ends such as Salvadoran soccer jersies, CDs, and adult videos :shock: . Very friendly service (although the fact that I had my then fourteen-month-old daughter with me certainly helped with that).


    Pupuseria El Guanaco
    916 Greenwood Ave.
    Waukegan
  • Post #26 - February 18th, 2005, 12:37 pm
    Post #26 - February 18th, 2005, 12:37 pm Post #26 - February 18th, 2005, 12:37 pm
    C2:

    If something is offered on a menu, it should be good, but in the real world we cannot expect that always to be so. To be honest, I don't think ordering oysters in the sort of place that Casa de Samuel is is an act that is likely to be greatly rewarded. Squid is an infinitely safer bet (since it is all frozen long before it migrates to the Great Lakes) but I have found that many places that offer sauteed squid cook it for that oh-so-deadly fifteen seconds too much (cf. my review of Real de Catorce, to appear).

    With regard to the cecina de venado, I can understand the choice of the term "livery" to describe it but that dark, intense flavour is -- or so it seems to me -- precisely what the dish is about. I like venison, I like cecina, and bringing the two together is for me particularly swell. Perhaps it's not something you like or perhaps the exemplar you got in Waukegan was not up to snuff. But I have found the cecina de venado at the Cermak branch of Casa de Samuel to be very delicious and I stand by the recommendation of same to fans of cecina.

    I find it shocking that a place that advertises hand-made tortillas as one of its particular attractions served something other than that. Are you quite sure that was the case? In light of Maple Leaf's experience, perhaps the person responsible for the tortilla-making was not able to work that shift.

    The tortillas at Case de Samuel on Cermak are most definitely a particular attraction.

    Antonius
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #27 - February 20th, 2005, 2:01 am
    Post #27 - February 20th, 2005, 2:01 am Post #27 - February 20th, 2005, 2:01 am
    Antonius,

    I remember one of the first occasions I met Vital Information. He was very encouraging I write more posts than I did initially. Originally I felt I needed several visits before I could qualify myself competent to write about my dining experience. Rob convinced me to write about even a singular visit considering it a snapshot in a restaurant's life. He suggested over time others will post their experiences and trends may be picked out.

    My experience at Casa de Samuel is what it is as well as your impressions are what they are. We went to two different locations in the same region of the same restaurant. In small chains, often the original location is better than a secondary, though that rule is not always reliable.

    I, like yourself, try a variety of things on any given menu to learn what the restuarant is capable as well as learn what we may or may not like at a particular establishment. If I stuck to what I know and like, then I may as well stay at McDonalds because I grew up knowing and liking it.

    I do know what a homemade tortilla ought to be. There were three room temperature tortillas presented in a basket with a colorful cloth draped around them. By contrast, Tacos el Norte in Highwood delivers factory corn tortillas freshly warmed and slightly browned from the grill in a plastic tortilla container. Open to collect a tortilla, always more than enough, a waft of steam rises up. Yes, the tortilla maker may have been out at Casa de Samuel. I did ask about homemade tortillas at the very moment I sat down. When tortillas finally arrived with my main course I was assured these were homemade. They just didn't seem to be and maybe they thought I wouldn't know any better.

    As for the venison, I respect your taste and know you don't offer praise without justification. I hope you will respect mine. I did receive from Erik M. two venison roasts for Christmas, which I will be very careful cooking. When they are finally prepared, I will comment whether the livery taste carried over or was absent.

    Again, from your reading your posts, I really wanted to love the place. My Mom read the menu the next morning and got very excited about variety of meats offered. Though I was disappointed by my recent visit, I really don't mind going again with my Mom. I will make a point to visit the city location sometime soon in any case.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #28 - February 20th, 2005, 2:37 pm
    Post #28 - February 20th, 2005, 2:37 pm Post #28 - February 20th, 2005, 2:37 pm
    Re: livery taste in venison

    My experience of venison, which is not exhaustive, but fairly well-informed due to a family of hunters, leads me to believe that different cuts have more or less of the livery taste C2 describes. The leg, for instance, does not, while the loin does.

    That said, I don't really know what the cut is that produces cecina, but it may affect the taste.

    Personally, I love it, but Himself is more ambivalent. So we disagree on the best, remembered, meals of venison.
  • Post #29 - February 20th, 2005, 2:56 pm
    Post #29 - February 20th, 2005, 2:56 pm Post #29 - February 20th, 2005, 2:56 pm
    Cathy,

    I don't really understand the level of indignation you express hereabove nor do I feel the lecture on the validity of differing opinions to be especially to the point.

    - I praise Casa de Samuel, Cermak branch.
    - You criticise Casa de Samuel, Waukegan branch.
    - I respond, granting that some differences may have to do with how the different branches are run and that questions of individual taste are also likely to be at issue. But I also address two points of your criticism which from my perspective sorely need qualification and/or relativisation, to wit:

    a) I question in no way what you say about the disappointing raw oysters but at the same time I do question the reasoning behind ordering a dish of that ilk at an establishment such as the one under discussion here. If Casa de Samuel, Waukegan branch, were near, say Puget Sound, perhaps that would be a reasonable item to order but in Chicago it seems to me a choice that will all but certainly disappoint. Again, if they offer it, it should in an ideal world be good -- and from what you say they were not rotten, just tasteless -- but it seems so obviously unlikely that they would be able to offer consistently first-rate oysters, why order them there?

    With regard to the other appetiser, I question your opinion not at all; it's a dish they should have been able to execute better and it's a noteworthy shortcoming that they didn't.

    b) Concerning the cecina de venado, your description of your experience makes it clear that you found the taste of the meat unpleasant, and there is nothing to question or criticise about that aesthetic judgement. At the same time, it is also worth mentioning here that from the name of the dish and the description I included in my first post above, you should have expected something strong in flavour: "The flavour of the meat was really noteworthy, with an intense, dark aspect that stood up beautifully to the other flavours I added to the tacos I made." The very point of cecina is to intensify the flavour, for it is meat that is both salted and marinated and (traditionally) sun-dried. Now, given that cecina de res has a stronger flavour than plain old, non-cured carne asada, it stands to reason that cecina de venado would be a similarly more intensely flavoured preparation of venison. I must add, however, that to my taste the surely farm-raised venison used in the restaurant is not nearly so strong in gaminess as the meat of some of the wild deer hunted in Wisconsin that I've been given over the years; such wild meat varies in flavour considerably depending on various factors, from delicious to barely edible (I'll be surprised if the meat you got from the very discerning Erik isn't delicious). In any event, unless you cure the venison roasts you have in the Guerrerense style, they shouldn't taste like cecina de venado.

    With regard to the matter of the tortillas, you accuse the people at Casa de Samuel of fraud. Now, do I think that fraudulent business practices occur in Chicago? Yes, I think so. Waukegan too? Certainly. But in light of my experiences and those of others at another branch of Casa de Samuel and the previously reported experiences of Maple Leaf ("[I] ordered eggs and chorizo and was delighted that they came with obviously handmade, freshly cooked tortillas"), your assertion, that they not only served up factory-made tortillas but then also lied about their provenance, is indeed shocking. I still wonder whether they were in fact hand-made, in-house products but perhaps from earlier in the day, perhaps because the tortilla maker was for some reason not there in the evening when you were there. But since you are so certain they have perpetrated this crime of deception, I suggest you call the Better Business Bureau of Waukegan and so denounce them to the appropriate authorities.

    In conclusion, my response to your review of Casa de Samuel in Waukegan was not a dismissal of your aesthetic judgements of what you were served but an attempt to address what I regarded as criticisms which needed to be put into a broader perspective; in particular, I call into question the appropriateness of judging this restaurant on an item such as raw oysters and then call attention to the fact that while you quite legitimately may find cecina de venado not to your taste, it seems likely that what you got was precisely what it was supposed to be and to the palates of others, including natives of Guerrero such as my friend, Jose, something quite delicious.

    With regard to the tortillas, only a criminal investigation can lead to an acceptable resolution of the matter.

    :wink:

    Antonius
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #30 - February 20th, 2005, 3:19 pm
    Post #30 - February 20th, 2005, 3:19 pm Post #30 - February 20th, 2005, 3:19 pm
    annieb wrote:Re: livery taste in venison

    My experience of venison, which is not exhaustive, but fairly well-informed due to a family of hunters, leads me to believe that different cuts have more or less of the livery taste C2 describes. The leg, for instance, does not, while the loin does.

    That said, I don't really know what the cut is that produces cecina, but it may affect the taste.

    Personally, I love it, but Himself is more ambivalent. So we disagree on the best, remembered, meals of venison.


    Annie,

    Very interesting.

    I love venison and order it almost everytime I see it on a menu.

    Since it is hard to buy fresh venison in the Chicago area, I have only cooked it three or four times. The first few times, a friend of mine was given different cuts of steaks from a friend who was a hunter. The last attempt, many years ago, was a fiasco. I spent a ton on venison tenderloin from Wild Game (a restaurant supplier) in the Ukranian Village neighborhood. I used a recipe from Ambria for Venison Tenderloin with a rhubarb sauce over braised lentils. The venison was VERY livery. No one cared for it. I thought I was sold the wrong item. I have had venison tenderloin in restaurants and never thought them to be livery. Your comments now justify my experience at home, but still contradict restaurant experiences.

    Thanks,
    Al

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