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A guest post from Reader contributor Kristina Meyer
I had plans to get together for lunch last weekend with some well seasoned if not totally hardened food geeks. Choosing a lunchtime destination among foodies can often become a jerky dance full of posturing and equivocation. If it’s bad, you take the blame, but if it’s good—the glory is yours alone. So when asked where we should dine, I decided to skip the dance and offer up Amira’s Trio on a shimmering platter of effusive praise. I had been recently for the first time, and it was fantastic. From the first sip of not-too-sweet café con leche to the last bite of a slow-cooked, olive-studded ropa vieja, the meal proved that contrary to much of Chicago’s Cuban restaurant scene, Cuban cuisine is way more than just a sandwich. By the end of my meal, I wanted to nestle in the bosom of owner, Vicki Amira, partly because she managed to lure two decidedly antidessert people into heady sugar comas with sweet plantains and leche condensada and partly because I hoped she might whisper the secret to her perfect yuca con mojo.
So it was without fear that I walked into the little storefront restaurant where my friends were already seated. It was midafternoon on a cold and snowy Saturday, and the room was mostly empty. After the buzz of chit-chat-hello had faded, the serious business of ordering got under way. A hearty, but not unreasonable amount of food was requested—empanadas, some stuffed with cheese, some with picadillo, a Cuban sandwich, lechon, pigeon pea rice, of course the ropa vieja, black beans, yucca and cafés con leche all around. We all knew something was amiss when our dishes and drinks emerged from the kitchen one by one in a painfully slow progression. Thus began a two-hour lunch of false starts, missed connections, disappointment, and for me, shame.
I wish not to rehash every service misstep and subpar bite of food, and it’s not even to say that it was horrible. The empanadas were tender and flaky, and the chimichurri was alive, but the lechon seemed more like griddled country ham with red-eye gravy than roasted pork and the ropa vieja tasted like a dachshund with a back brace—a little pathetic, but still lovable. As we paid the modest bill, I was left feeling paralyzed. I didn’t want to make a scene, apologetically overexplaining what must have been a fluke, swearing to Jesus that it had been so much better before. So I said nothing, kissed my friends farewell, and hoped they didn't think less of me.
Still, I know my first experience was not a mirage, and I stand by my love for Vicki Amira and her restaurant. I will drag my friends back, kicking and screaming if I have to, because while condensed milk is sweet, redemption is sweeter.Amira’s Trio, 3047 N. Cicero, 773-205-6200