Mediterranean Treats in Chicago to Extend Summer

With vibrant bursts of color, flavor and freshness, the cuisines of the Côte d’Azur and the Levant help us extend summer a little longer.

Imagine yourself strolling on the beaches of Nice or Cannes, enjoying a fresh roll filled with niçoise salad or an olive and anchovy tapenade. Or maybe you snack on a pissaladière, a pizza-like tart covered with caramelized onions and Provence herbs. Next, you’ll walk the ancient cobblestone streets of Amman, Jordan, stopping at cafes and street food stalls to sample tiny eggplants and grape leaves stuffed with lemon rice, nuts and molasses. pomegranate, or maybe grilled seafood or watermelon with a brine. Cottage cheese. Between bites, you sip a lavender cocktail, hibiscus iced tea, or fresh mint lemonade.

These are perfect delicacies to expand our definition of Mediterranean cuisine. We’ve selected three Chicago restaurants where you can indulge your travel fantasies and ignore the approach of fall for a few more weeks.

The cuisine of the French Mediterranean coast is like a combination of Provence and Italy and works with a wide, colorful palette of herbs and fresh produce. The Southern Harvest Greens Salad ($17) at Roscoe Village is a great introduction to these flavors, with its mint leaves, mixed greens, grilled Michigan peaches, fennel shavings, goat cheese, toasted pecans and its orange vinaigrette. “We regularly incorporate fresh herbs from our patio garden, including mint, basil, sage, rosemary and parsley,” said William Lara, executive sous chef.

A $75 ($14) French cocktail with champagne, gin and lemon juice might make one dream of the French Riviera, since the South’s exterior has shades of turquoise and white. The bar also offers regional specialties. “Some of my favorite summer drinks from the French Riviera are Côtes de Provence rosé or an aperitif of dry vermouth and Coca-Cola on ice,” Lara said.

Although Le Sud uses Mediterranean seasoning and cooking techniques, they do not limit their influences to the south of France. Let your taste buds travel further east by getting the Provençal mussels ($23) with fennel, fire-roasted tomatoes, grated garlic, shallots, grilled lemon, Provence herbs, smoked paprika and sambuca with spicy pita. Or try the Tuesday special shrimp skewer ($18) with veggies and lemon-fennel dip, plus a side of garlic-parmesan fries with lemon aioli ($9). A Santorini ($18) with baby arugula, feta, olives, grated radishes, sun-dried tomatoes, cucumber, ras el-hanout and a lemon-mint vinaigrette will set the right tone for the greens . The bar can even add an oriental twist to your cocktails, as the Gardener ($14) mixes vodka, rose water, lime and chamomile syrup, while the Hibiscus Mule ($14 ) offers hibiscus-infused vodka, lime juice, hibiscus syrup and ginger beer.

2301 W. Roscoe Street, 773-857-1985,

Mint Lemonade from Al Bawadi Grill in Bridgeview and Niles.

“In my culture, we tend to grill kebabs in the summer because it’s an outdoor activity and a family reunion-type meal,” said Faris Ismail, owner of the Palestinian family restaurant Al Bawadi Grill with two locations in Niles and Bridge View. “It’s always hot in this region, but it’s the fruits that change in summer. We can put a mixture of sabr cactus fruits, watermelon, cantaloupes and honeydew on a platter and eat them for hours.

As you enter Al Bawadi, admire the ornate wooden panels, colorful fabrics, and waiters dressed in traditional Palestinian clothing. Start with some hot or cold mezze like makdous ($9), which are tiny eggplants stuffed with walnuts, red pepper, garlic, salt and olive oil. “My favorite dish is stuffed grape leaves,” Ismail said. Each country in this region, whether Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan or Iraq, makes them differently, especially when it comes to the fillings. In Lebanon, they use pomegranate molasses and tomatoes, and we don’t. Our base includes a lot more lemon, as well as olive oil, meat and rice.

There are several salad options, including the classic fattoush ($8-$11), with greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions with fried bread on top, or the taboulah ($8-$13), where finely chopped parsley, tomatoes and mint are seasoned. with olive oil and lemon. Perhaps less familiar is the Ghazawi ($7): “This simple Gaza salad is a spicier version of a classic Arabic salad with cucumber, tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil, but with added jalapenos,” Ismail said.

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If you prefer to celebrate the summer vibe with something other than kebab, opt for the mixed seafood ($30), where salmon, basa fillet and jumbo shrimp are marinated in lemon, garlic and olive oil. It comes with tahini sauce and a side of hummus or house salad, and they have the perfect drink to accompany it with the freshly made mint lemonade ($7), popular throughout the Levant region .

8501 Dempster Street, Niles; 847-957-1999; 7216 West 87th Street, Bridgeview; 708-599-1999;

Fig and olive salad with green beans, olive tapenade and grated fennel, from Fig & Olive in the Gold Coast.

“Summers on my grandparents’ farm in the south of France inspire the dishes I create today,” said Alain Allegretti, chef and culinary director at Fig & Olive’s Gold Coast location. “I remember the freshness of the produce picked in the morning and prepared for lunch at noon. I was always in the kitchen with my grandmother watching her prepare dishes, and it was the simplicity of the things she prepared like roast chicken, fried polenta with a simple tomato sauce that was so delicious, or a summer staple like fried zucchini flowers. »

An earthy but luxurious starter is the fig and olive salad ($21) with green beans, olive tapenade, shaved fennel, Castelfranco chicory, sun-dried tomatoes, gorgonzola, figs and candied pecans. It’s nice to enjoy a light but satisfying main course before the season of stews, roasts and root vegetables sets in, so the Mediterranean branzino ($43) is a top tip from Fig &’s summer menu Olive. “I wanted to capture the feeling of sitting by the turquoise waters of the coast,” Allegretti said. “I added fennel, green beans and broad beans to give a nice crunch to the dish, potatoes for a nourishing starch, and finished with a flavorful virgin sauce.”

As for cocktails, choose between the Lavender Fields ($18), the Summertime Boulevardier ($20) or the non-alcoholic hibiscus sparkling iced tea ($10). “In Lavender Fields, rosemary and Holy Elder bring out the botanicals in the gin, and a touch of bitter lavender finishes the cocktail with the aromas of Provence,” Allegretti said. “Summertime Boulevardier is our Riviera version of a classic Parisian cocktail with Aperol and fresh strawberries. Throughout the Mediterranean you will find magnificent gardens with exotic flowers, including hibiscus. We make a hibiscus rose tea and combine it with the Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic, which contains notes of rosemary and lemon thyme, ingredients also synonymous with the French Riviera.

104 E. Oak St., 312-445-0060,

Nikki O’Neill is a freelance writer.

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