Saturday, October 10, 2009

Jiallo's African-Caribbean Cuisine

Jiallo’s is a restaurant out on the northwest side (roughly 56th and Guion) that offers what they call African-Caribbean cuisine in what is certainly the most stripped-down and minimalist dining room I think that I have ever eaten in. I don’t know the west side all that well, and someone who does might be able to refute this next point, I don’t know - but this seems like a terrible location for a restaurant. There’s not much of anything in the area, no chance of attracting any foot traffic, and Guion Road is bloody annoying to drive.

I read about this place in the Star’s weekend section a couple of weeks ago, and mentioned it to Amy - the dish pictured in the review, jerk chicken with red beans and rice and fried plantains, looked appealing; and both of us like to try new things to eat and to support the independent place whenever we can. By an unusual scheduling fluke, I had today (technically yesterday) off, so we roped my mom into watching Jackson, and off we went.

By minimalist dining room, I mean one big open space with tables and chairs and a handful of booths; stark white walls; and a bar where no alcohol was being served and a handful of people were hanging out and not drinking. There were four other people at tables when we got there, so we took an open booth and sat down. The owner, Jiallo himself, brought menus and took our drink order, and we ordered dinner when he came back with the drinks. Amy had the jerk chicken ($11.99) we saw in the picture in the paper, and I chose the curried chicken ($9.99 - pictured). The menu said that each came with either red beans and rice or mixed vegetables, and we both chose the red beans and rice. The jerk chicken also came with fried plantains.

And then the waiting began. And continued. And continued some more. And then out came two plates of fried plantains, which were quite nice - though we were only expecting one side of plantains, the ones with Amy’s jerk chicken. They were crispy outside and tender inside - sweet, but not overly so, and not especially greasy, though there was a bit of a sheen left on the plate when they were gone. Next came more waiting and then - surprise! - some fried rice that Jiallo had just whipped up in the back. The review in the paper said that he often prepares things that are not listed on the menu, and then brings them out for people to sample. He’s got an interesting take on fried rice. It had a dusky, smoky sort of flavor and clumped together like it was sticky rice. Most fried rice I’ve encountered is made up of mostly rice, with bits of other things - usually vegetables and sometimes a bit of egg; this was pretty much rice, though Amy reckons she forked a wayward green bean along the way. I believe I saw a sliver of onion in there somewhere. Either way, both little plates of rice were gone in no time - and I think we’d both have a go at it again if it ever shows up on the menu.

Then more waiting. Later on, we learned that it had been especially slow that day because of the rain, and that they had run out of most of the prepared food around six o’clock or so. When the entrées finally did arrive, I could tell why they had taken so long. The chicken on both plates was literally falling off the bone, and that takes time. Mine was awash in brilliant yellow curry sauce that was flavorful without masking the flavor of the chicken - and it was very mild curry, so those who don’t dig on spicy food can order this dish with confidence. Amy’s jerk chicken was slightly spicier, though still pretty mild, and had a good sweet and smoky flavor that also did not get in the way of the flavor of the chicken.

The red beans and rice, as they were, left a bit to be desired, though; they were not bursting with flavor, but were instead dry and a little on the cold side. This was remedied, however, when Jiallo came back around and asked if we wanted some more "gravy" for the red beans and rice. We both said yes, and he brought out two little bowls of the sauce, which was full of ox-tail and great big white beans and had a very earthy, buttery taste that was easily the best thing I tasted during the meal. I poured it over the red beans and rice on my plate and then, magically, the red beans and rice vanished almost instantly.

And then he brought out two little plates of mixed vegetables, which neither of us had ordered and which were probably offered to make up for the long wait, which he acknowledged was out of the ordinary and for which he apologized. And the veggies were lovely - tender but firm, and very simply seasoned with pepper and just a hint of salt. Also to make up for the wait, he knocked off the drinks and sides from the bill, though we did not ask that he do that.

The food was a long time coming, but it was well worth the wait - and based on conversations we had with Jiallo and others which we overheard, the slow service seems to have been an anomaly. It’s also apparently anomalous for the place to be as empty as it was - just a handful of diners - when we got there at seven o’clock; and that’s encouraging, because it’s the kind of place you have to make an effort to get to. I’m cautiously optimistic that a return visit will be just as enjoyable from a service standpoint as tonight’s visit was from the culinary end of things.

4202 West 56th Street
Mon-Sat 11-930
Sun 2-8

1 comment:

Yvel Guelce said...

John, I agree with everything you said, especially the location of the place. To add my 2 cents, they don't have a phone number to call before arrival. However, the food is worth the wait if you have the spare time. I've been there on 2 occasions and have a trip planned for this Saturday, but not looking forward to the wait.

Being a Caribbean myself, the wait is very common in these restaurant, but the food keep you coming back.

On another note, thanks for posting this comment, as it’s the only web appearance they have out there!

Take care..