I like to pretend that I'm all for leaving the comfort zone (I have tried mackerel sashimi after all), but when it comes down to it, "wary" is an adjective that could be sadly attached to my name. I was gung-ho at first when Steamer suggested Nigerian food for dinner, but after tracking down the menu for Bolat, 3346 N. Clark St., I realized I might be in over my head. The words I could read were for things like beef tongue and oxtail. Err.
But I assembled my mettle, hopped on the bike and made a pit stop at Trader Joe's for some (potentially much-needed) wine. As typically happens, Steamer and I are in a rut. This time around, we can't get off Bordeaux, and Trader Joe's sells some remarkably cheap bottles. We grabbed a $5.99 bottle of Chateau Du Buisson, some pita bread and vitamins (gotta load up when you're there) and made our way to Wrigleyville.
The exterior, with its bright, mural-like paint job, was lively enough to be reassuring. The interior (a former sushi restaurant, apparent in touches like the latticed bar) was just as subtly comforting with its simple tables, multiple shades of brown and Fela Kuti overhead.
Our remarkably quiet server brought us wine glasses and left us to our frantic menu reading. Because thing is, everything sounded good. Even the stuff I couldn't decipher, like kenke and banku. We asked a few questions then went with the Nigerean-style salad, fish pepper soup, beans and fried plantain and jollof rice with goat.
The wine was a good pick. Not at all because it went with the cuisine (what does go with African? I was thinking something mild and white) but because there was a good wait before our first dish was brought out. That said, it was the kind of wait you don't mind, the one that comes from food being freshly prepared, the one that's sided by good conversation and utterly sippable wine.
The salad came out first, a oval plate heaped with goodies that reminded me that lettuce is over-rated: finely chopped tomatoes, peas and beans topped with hardboiled egg slices, all topped in a mayo-based dressing. And it was good. As was everything else we slowly worked our way through: a spiced soup floating a giant fish fillet; a hefty plate of jollof (smoky tomato) rice sided by tender goat interspersed with jalapenos, peppers and onions; and a stick-to-your-guts plate of beans ringed by sweet, perfectly fried plantains.
We dove in then slowed the pace, taking a bite here or there, remarking again and again about how good the flavors were, how amazing basic food can taste and how cheap the impending bill would be. As it was, a mere $28 for our feast.
I think Steamer was ready to go back for more as soon as we left the door. I was wishing for leftovers. Instead, we spent the ride home waxing poetic about plantains while cursing all the obviously unnecessary $100-plus restaurant charges on our credit cards. And silently smiling over the fact that at 11 p.m., I may be weary, but I sure wasn't wary.
Zinny Fandel's tales of living the (mostly) BYOB life are intended to be attempted at home and in the community, preferably at BYOB restaurants.