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The Purloined Menu

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Souk is hazy and perfumey and inviting, like some Casbah hideaway, though it's smack in the middle of Wicker Park. It's amusing to watch the habitues hooked up to hookahs filled with scented tobacco--exhaling apricot, strawberry, mint, or apple has rescued a lethargic-old-guy tradition and turned it trendy--mesmerizing to wonder if the candles set into the walls will ignite the room, and charming to settle into the romantic stupor that dim lighting and high prices can induce. Somewhat more charming, in fact, than eating the bright, if not quite right, Middle Eastern cuisine.

Mezze Platter Refreshingly upbeat versions of the old standards: baba ghannoug, hummus, and tabbouleh. Newcomers include a sultry red-pepper mash, spicy pickled eggplant, and a round of yogurt cheese coated with that same oregano rub. Also a nice wedge of feta, said to be French, and some tomatoes that actually taste good. All in all a happy arrangement.

Mozza Dani Lamb shank, the old-fashioned sort, with it's fat-rippled, muttony mien, accompanied by tasty rice and plump apricots.

Samak Tahini Chunks of sea bass layered with creamy tahini and topped with toasty almonds. A delightful stack of flavors and textures that shows what lauded Lebanese chef Maher Chebaro can do--and should do more frequently.

Aushak Wontons, more or less, wrapped around saffron-colored onions, slipped over spaghetti sauce and under a thick blanket of cold yogurt. Yick.

Tables come equipped with saj flatbread, sort of a single-ply pita, gone tough and chewy in spots. Accompanied by two little dipping pots, one of oil, the other of zaatar, a mix of oregano, thyme, sesame seeds, and something that smells like cumin but is actually sumac, a plant I never realized was edible.

Souk, 1552 N. Milwaukee, is open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5:30 to 10:30, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11:30. Sunday brunch is served 11 to 3, dinner 5:30 to 10. Call 773-227-1818.

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