Beating the A/C with Tagine at Shokran
Okay. I already know what you're going to say. It's July. The humidity has arrived, temperatures have climbed above 80 degrees and are likely to stay there, Dennis is out in the park tasting watermelon soaked in lemonade, and all of our early 20th-century Chicago apartment buildings are dripping with the sweat of our hardworking window units.
And here I am eating stew.
But the thing about deep summer is that restaurants have the tendency to jack up the a/c to temperatures that have me thinking about winter way before I'm ready to. I don't mean to complain, but still. I get cold.
So unless I'm dining al fresco, you'll often find me a) bundling up in a sweater or b) eating something to battle the chill. Like tagine.
My tagine—a thick North African stew—was served in an actual tagine—a hardy earthenware pot—at Shokran, an easy-to-miss Moroccan restaurant a few steps east of the Irving Park Blue Line Station. But that may have been more for dramatic effect. When the funnel-shaped lid was whisked off tableside, letting out a puff of steam, everything was so artfully arranged I couldn't imagine that it had cooked itself out that way.
I love a dish named after a place, so I tried the Marrakesh Lamb Tagine ($18), after the former south-central imperial city, and the Casablanca Chicken Tagine ($16), after where Rick's Café Americain served up gin to gambling expats during World War II (oh, and it's the largest city in Morocco, too).
Neither were knock-out dishes, but then when is a stew? I imagine someone from Morocco might dig into one of these and sigh, "Just like Grandma's." Both were mellow and comforting, although the lamb won out in terms of the most familiar, stodgy, pot-pie kind of flavor (think gamey, tender meat and fresh peas popping in your mouth with each bite). Big slices of dense, olive oil-soaked marinated artichoke hearts were nestled in the dish in lieu of potatoes.
I favored the chicken. The white meat was highlighter-yellow with turmeric, covered with mild-tasting onion bits so softened they had formed a kind of jam, and surrounded by even chunks of potato. Best were the bright bites that included wonderfully roasted whole olives or a bit of preserved lemon peel—I could have done with more of each.