Taxim – Chicago

Greek restaurant. You know the stereotype.Those perfectly turned potatoes – I believe they come like that in a bag. The perfect rice – is that Uncle Bens? The classic salad made with tasteless feta, unripe tomatoes and too many raw onions. Belly dancers on the weekends. Bad wine. If you’re lucky, you might be able to get saganaki, the Greek cheese (kelafatori) flamed at your table. But usually not.

I’d like you to meet somebody. This is David Schneider, and he’s taking all those tired cliches served in Greek restaurants everywhere in North America and kicking them to the curb.
His restaurant Taxim, is making a difference in how we perceive, eat and enjoy Greek food. The regional Greek menu uses time honored techniques and ingredients that celebrate the seasons and Illinois finest purveyors. In addition, all breads, pastry, phyllo, charcuterie, preserves and yogurt are made in house. That’s right. You heard me.
Take for example, the pureed chickpea dish, velvety smooth and served with lemon, sauteed fresh chickpeas and sliced radishes. A drizzle of fruity olive oil and a sprinkling of aleppo pepper for colour. So beautiful, so flavourful.

The wine list was a revelation as was the staff, well-versed in the regional varietals of Greece. We chose a crisp white hailing from Santorini, Domaine Sigalas, made with the assyrtiko grape. Crisp with medium acidity, with hints of stone fruit and dry nectar. A great wine on a summer night.

Then came a dish of fresh purslane dressed with capers, dill and fried halloumi, with hits of preserved lemon and olive oil. Balanced, tangy, bright with dill, the capers provided a gentle acidic hit, the cheese a hit of salt, a pow of intensified citrus and the purslane, juicy and spinach-like. I loved this dish so much, I had it three times. Once with friends who introduced us to this amazing place, and twice with my trusted dining companion.

I’m far from being a vegetarian, but with the flavour combinations Schneider uses and the quality of ingredients involved, it would be easy to switch sides.

Another winning dish was the tender roasted and sliced beets, served with beet greens and a slice of sheep’s feta. Some might think that sounds fine just as it is, but underneath all that beet goodness was a walnut and garlic skordalia. Pure genius.
From the wood-fired grill came a dish of octopus, fennel root and red onions, decorated with fennel fronds and lemon to brighten everything up.
Next, a wonderful dish of baby okra tossed together with soft sun-dried tomatoes, fresh coriander, olive oil and a side of semolina bread.
Other dishes we enjoyed included fried green melrose and gypsy peppers with kefalograviera cheese and fried shallots, a sauteed dish of baby zucchini and squash with mint and cracked coriander, and a phyllo pie stuffed with fresh shallots, spring garlic, leeks, fresh dill and goat feta.
I haven’t been this excited about a new restaurant and food for a long time. I wanted to dine here every night but I could only manage two. And yes, they have many meat dishes on their mains, we just didn’t get around to getting that far into the menu.
If you find yourself in Chicago, go to Taxim. Spend lots of money, eat lots of beautiful food, drink intriguing wines, all of it free of cliches.
Note: For anyone wanting to expand their knowledge of regional Greek cuisine, check out the incredible blog by Peter Minakis. Be inspired.

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