With my all-encompassing love of Uzbek food, I try to find every opportunity to sample it. But sometimes, I have to make these opportunities. So, a while back, the folks and I drove to the Botanical Gardens in Chicago and for lunch/dinner went to the Uzbek restaurant not too far from there. The restaurant is called Chaihana (19 West Dundee Road Buffalo Grove, IL; 847-215-5044) and is in a strip-mall next to Rogan Shoes. Don’t let the location fool you, it’s an oasis where your hunger for scrumptious food and delicious drink will be fulfilled. There were several articles written about it, and this one is probably one of the better ones.
This was my second trip to this restaurant and I wish it were closer to where I live. Not that absolutely everything was always fantastic, but it’s pretty great. Of course it differs from how we make this kind of food at home and how it was made in Tashkent, but it’s pretty close given the limitations (the lamb species here is different from the lamb in Tashkent, so it’s missing the proper fat, and there are no tandyr (tandoori) ovens).
The decor is surprisingly nice. I like that there are crisp, clean, white table cloths and napkins; I like the little fountain, the murals, and the suzaneh (pronounced: soo-za-neh with the accent on the last syllable in this case) hanging on the wall. My grandma has one that was made especially for her at her work as a sign of respect and appreciation. It was given to her at her retirement party.
Here is a close-up of the suzaneh.
Seeing it in this restaurant just reminded me so much more of where I came from, made it feel more authentic, and I’m sure made the food taste all that much better. Though our waiter was not an Uzbek, we learned that the owners have lived in Andijon (a city in Uzbekistan) for many years. And no, I don’t have a suzaneh hanging on my walls, nor does anyone else in my family. It’s stored in some dusty suitcase somewhere…
But back to the food….
First things first…. We ordered hot tea. Remember that it was the middle if winter and cold and there’s nothing better than a steaming cup of real black tea. By real I mean loose leaf, not in a tea bag. See, you can even see the leaf floating in the cup. Oh, and these cups are called piala or pialushka (pronounced: pee-a-loosh-ka, with the emphasis on the “loo” part; with pialushki being the plural). The tea was good, so totally hit the spot. Ahhhh, bliss… And it helped that it was served in the traditional tableware. We have that same set at home, it’s what helped fill our crates when we came here (and if you know where we can get more, please let me know!) and the atmosphere was therefore so much more comfortable and homier.
Then we ordered food. It felt like we ordered half the menu, but the portions were very generous and we had plenty to take home.
We ordered salad (“achichuk“), like the one we typically make at home. But we (I) typically leave the cucumbers off. It was pretty good, and I was surprised since it was the middle of winter and the tomatoes were pretty good. You know me and tomatoes… If you search online for this restaurant you’ll see other reviews and sometimes incorrect descriptions. This salad is not pickled as others claim, and you can see that from the picture.
We also ordered bread. It’s called a lepyoshka (pronounced: le-pyo-shka), and should generally be made in a tandyr, but this was done in a regular oven. It was pretty good, but of course, not like what you’d get in Tashkent pretty much at any bazaar, even the little sidewalk ones. The open fire really adds quite a bit of flavor and puts it over the top. I really like the sesame seeds on it; just adds a really nice hint of nutty-ness and changes the flavor profile of the whole thing. These are made from scratch daily and are served warm. YUM!
This post is getting pretty long, and I haven’t even gotten to the main course. So please stay tuned to the next post.