Thursday, September 23, 2004

Chilpancingo blog.

Our waiter today, Raoul, from a town north of Mexico City, had great poise. At the end of lunch, he told us in loving detail about some of the other specialties of the house, things we hadn’t tried. There were a great many such items, since Chilpancingo Restaurante changes its dinner menu every two weeks. That was enough to get my attention. Apparently, the chef, one Guerrero Generoso “Geno” Bahena, draws inspiration from regionally specialties all over Mexico, some from each of that country’s 31 states, according to Raoul.

Chilpancingo, also the name of the state capital of Guerrero on the Pacific coast, is in Chicago’s River North district, in part of a renovated warehouse. I was sitting with two business associates at this lunch, near one of the front windows, so I didn’t get a good look at the full sweep of the place -- a bright explosion of Mexican artwork hanging against dark paneling and bricks -- until I went to the men’s room. Even there, the walls featured paintings: an Hispanic Venus, nude; a still life of ingredients in Mexican cuisine; and what this Anglo can only describe as a leering yellow Aztec demon-head, looking down on the urinals.

“Do you serve grasshoppers?” I asked Raoul.

“We do, señor. We don’t have them on the menu right now, but sometimes we do.” He didn’t betray any surprise at a question like that. Maybe he’s heard it before; or maybe his professionalism didn’t allow it.

He went on to say that growing up he would have never eaten grasshoppers, but since he’d started working at Chilpancingo about three years ago, he’d tried many dishes native to parts of Mexico other than his own.

Today I had a chicken mole. Mediocre mole, I’ve discovered, isn’t very pleasant at all, but this was superb. It seems that chef Geno has a reputation as a mole master. As for grasshoppers in regional Mexican cooking, a few regions at least, I’d read about it years ago, and the idea has intrigued me since. One of these days, I’ll eat them too. Today wasn’t the day, but now I know such a thing is possible here in Chicago.


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