Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rickshaw Republic

Location: 2312 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL 60614
Rickshaw Republic on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
I love the motto of Rickshaw Republic... "We peddle Asian street food."  This Indonesian influenced restaurant may be one of the first of its kind in Chicago.  With menu categories titled "Side Street", "Satay Stall", and "Mommy Specials", you can definitely tell this restaurant is family run.  I saw the owner walking around being very attentive to his customers and explaining the different regions of Indonesia and their respective cuisines.  Upon ordering, we were told a story about one of the home made dishes that comes from a secret family recipe handed down for generations.  It was great.  But, when the food finally arrived (after a significant wait), I was a little disappointed.  Some dishes were incredible (wings, chicken gulai), but others were lacking spiciness and some were arrived on the cooler side of warm.  I think the restaurant is still working out the kinks and understanding the concept of timing dishes.  The atmosphere is very friendly and well-decorated.  I can see great potential in this Indonesian style restaurant.  For now, I have decided on giving it a 3.5 mile rating.  I am sure they can work out some of the timing issues and give additional heat when ordering a dish spicy.  And once they do that, I can definitely see myself walking additional miles for their food.

(Dozens of dolls look down upon you while dining in the back portion of the restaurant.  
The steamed rice is brought out in pyramids with deep fried garlic slices and crispy shrimp chips)

What We Ate:

Rickshaw Wings

So many places in Chicago are specializing in Asian style chicken wings.  And, Rickshaw Republic's wings are quickly gaining attention.  Before coming to the restaurant, I heard the "must have dish" was the Rickshaw wings.  And I completely agree.  These fried chicken wings are drenched in a sticky, dry chili, brown sugar, and ginger sauce.  This is not like any ordinary sauce; instead, it has the consistency of caramel with an amazing spice blend that has a little kick to it.  The crispiness is hiding underneath that sauce and is perfect.  One suggestion to change involves making a more uniform presentation with pieces of chili pepper on either all the wings or none.  Some were way spicier than others which can be unwelcoming to some.  The order comes with 4 whole wings (drummette and wing).  If I come back to Rickshaw Republic, I will be definitely ordering these wings and a side of rice for my meal.


The empanadas were an OK appetizer... not one to share with more than two people though.  It comes with two empanadas stuffed with a combination of chicken, peas, vermicelli, and boiled egg.  Be careful if you are allergic to peanuts!  It comes with a sambal peanut sauce which is strongly peanut flavored, almost like a spicy peanut butter.  The actual pastel crust had a sweetness to it, which I enjoyed, but I think the filling was lacking flavor.  I personally make my own empanadas, so I may be a little biased on this review.

Pempek Bulat

I was extremely surprised to find deep fried fishcake balls on the menu.  I absolutely love eating this dish in the streets of the Philippines.  Unfortunately, this appetizer was very disappointing.  The fishballs were on the tough side and came with just 3 fish balls.  At $6.00, the price is outrageous especially when street food price would cost a few cents.  They are deep fried so naturally they are a little oily.  The vinegar sauce, which appears to be white vinegar, a little soy sauce, and maybe some chopped garlic helped to ease the oil.  Something to try... but nothing to come here for.

Babi Kecap

Listed under the "Mommy Special" section (which are the daily specials), we decided to try this pork belly dish.  It was stewed in a sweet soy sauce aka teriyaki sauce and served with steamed rice.  The presentation was a little unappealing, especially when the pork belly looks soggy and the black sauce appearing as if it was spilled onto the plate.  The pork belly was very gelatinous with no texture contrast at all.  I understand pork belly is supposed to be fatty, but I enjoy when restaurants do a flash fry before stewing to give that extra crunch factor.  Or at least, sprinkle chicharrones on top.  The steamed rice with the fried garlic was a great compliment, but is that really saying much?  Definitely wouldn't get this again.

Beef Rendang

The beef rendang was a beef curry also stewed in the same coconut cream curry that is used in the chicken gulai.  Obviously there are minor differences, but, overall, a strong coconut taste was still the dominant flavor.  It comes with a side of the white rice with fried garlic pieces which adds the crunch factor to the stew-like dish.  The beef was a little on the tougher side; definitely not as tender as the chicken gulai (see description below).  It was also a much smaller portion.  This dish did come out a little on the room temperature side which was disappointing.  Bring it out hotter next time please!

Pempek Telor

Before ordering, we asked our waitress about which dishes to try.  After listing essentially ever dish, she told us a short story about the Pempek Telor.  The owner's mother hand makes each of these submarine shaped fish cakes.  It is a secret recipe that has stayed in the family for years.  No one is allowed to watch her make the fish cakes except her son.  We knew immediately we wanted to try it, and we were glad we did.  The fishcake is stuffed with egg and deep fried.  It is served with side of egg noodles topped with cucumbers and supposedly dried shrimp and more egg.  I think they may have forgotten the dried shrimp and additional egg, but that didn't take away too much from the dish.  The fishcake itself was excellent... more tender than the fishballs and a more interesting flavor with the stuffed egg inside.  It was also served with a house vinegar sauce.  We ordered it spicy, and once again, it came out more mild than a honey BBQ chicken wing.  It had more of a sweet profile than spicy which was disappointing.  Personally, I like sweet dishes as well, but just ADD SPICINESS please!

Nasi Goreng

The Nasi Goreng is a traditional chicken fried rice that is served with a sunny side egg.  They offer it as either mild or spicy... but in our case, it seemed like the offered it as either bland or somewhat seasoned.  We specifically ordered the "spicy" version, but when the rice arrived, we encountered a fried rice that was great for sharing, but not spicy and under seasoned.  The fried egg on top had a cracked yolk, disappointing when the description states sunny side up.  The runny yolk would have added richness to a dish that was lacking depth.  Also, the dish wasn't served piping hot like some of the others.  I think the chef is still working on the timing aspect of finishing a table's dishes at the same time.

Chicken Gulai

Another great sharing dish.  The Chicken Gulai is a traditional coconut based curry made with chicken breast.  It is served with steamed white rice with the deep fried garlic pieces.  The chicken was tender and the coconut flavor strong.  I loved this curry.  Definitely mix some of the fried garlic pieces into the curry and rice and enjoy.  It couldn't be made any  better.  Another must have!

The DOs/DON'T:
- Be prepared for a wait.  They don't have much seating, especially for larger groups.  We had to wait easily 20 minutes at 1pm despite having several open tables... and we only had a group of 5.
- Supposedly they have free parking in the adjacent parking structure, but I am unsure how this works.
- Definitely ask for spicy... because we did, and the food did not come out spicy at all.  I don't even want to imagine the possible blandness that may ensue if you order mild.
- It is BYOB.  We didn't bring anything, but that is because we found out when we arrived.

- Don't come if you don't have time.  The food took quite a while to arrive at our table.  Luckily, all of us had extra time to wait.

How far would I walk for this food?

I would definitely walk 4 miles for these wings!  
Plenty of room to grow and get better with everything else!

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