The young man setting the table was moving slowly, stopping every now and then to make sure everything was in the right place. The young woman who brought our menus and took our drink orders did so with the same attention to detail. As it turns out, both had been on the job for less than a week, and like everyone else on the staff at the Sikia Restaurant, they were students in their final rotation at Washburne’s Culinary & Hospitality Institute.
Washburne Culinary & Hospitality Institute graduated its first class in 1937. Back then, it was the Chicago School of Cooking at the Washburne Trade School. One name change and a few curriculum changes later, the school is housed on the City Colleges of Chicago Kennedy-King campus at 63rd and Halsted. What hasn’t changed is the school’s mission.
As Marjorie Hyland, Washburne’s Director of Workforce Partnerships, explains,“The culinary programs at all of the area’s community colleges are designed to provide Chicago-area residents with the skills necessary for employment.” She adds, “Some of our students take the core courses required for completion of an associates degree, but, for the most part, they’re primarily interested in finding a good paying job in the hospitality industry once they complete their culinary training.”
Students spend two, back-to-back, eight week sessions working at Sikia, one in the kitchen and the other in the front of the house. For diners, it's all a bit strange, right up until the first course arrives. One bite, and everyone relaxes, secure in the knowledge that the staff is up to speed.
Sikia's lunch menu is a three-course prix-fixe ($8). The current menu offers five choices each for both the appetizer and entree courses and three for dessert. Portions are generous, so don't fill up on the bread, much of it made in-house and all of it excellent.
As for lunch, both the carrot and ginger soup and the Boston lettuce and avocado salad tossed with a grainy mustard vinaigrette were spot on, and so were the roasted pork tenderloin and the chicken piccata. Dessert, for both of us, was an attractively plated cherry clafouti tart served with a vanilla sauce and chantilly cream.
For the guests, lunch at the Sikia Restaurant is a delicious opportunity to learn more about the training required for entry level chefs. For the Washburne crew, it's a lesson learned and a job well done. And FYI, Sikia means "harmony" in Swahili.
Sikia Restaurant, 740 W. 63rd Street 773.602.5200
The format is fast casual, the location is Lakeview, and the menu is all about fajitas, empanadas, and a long list of Latin libations. Expect all the classics, along with specialty items like fajitas made with Korean or Greek chicken, sweet empanadas filled with Sweet Fruity Pebbles cheesecake or savory empanadas filled with smoked BBQ brisket. Large format cocktails served in 20-ounce vessels headline the beverage list, along with 20-ounce Cervezas on draft and several selections by the bottle. Dinner is served nightly from 5 pm-10 pm.
Fajita Factory, 3445 N. Halsted Street, 773.770.4618
Taste of Iceland
The Taste of Iceland returns to Chicago on April 11, complete with a crowded roster of culinary and cultural programming. On the culinary side, Chicago chef David Posey (Elske) and Icelandic chef Gunnar Karl Gislason (New York’s Agern) will be collaborating on a four-course, prix-fixe dinner menu featuring lamb, dairy and fish, all key components of the Icelandic diet. Dinner guests will also have an opportunity to enjoy craft cocktails made with both Reyka Vodka and Brennivin.
The menu will be available during Elske’s regular hours for the duration of Taste of Iceland in Chicago (April 11-14). To make a reservation, visit www.elskerestaurant.com.
Elske Chicago, 1350 W. Randolph, 312.733.1314
On Thursday, April 11 from 6-8 pm, LH on 21 at LondonHouse Chicago, will be offering Chicagoans a taste of Icelandic spirits. LH on 21 Head Bartender Adam Peabody and award-winning Icelandic bartender Tota will co-host a mixology class. The event will include samples of various cocktails, all made with Icelandic spirits. The first 60 guests will also receive a complimentary cocktail, and LH on 21 will continue to feature the cocktails through April 14.
LondonHouse Chicago, 85 E. Wacker Drive, 312.357.1200
The Hotcakes Cafe: A Neighborhood Restaurant
Saturdays at The Hotcakes Cafe in Wilmette are busy, but as luck would have it, we arrived during a lull between breakfast and lunch. Given that it was after 11, we could order from either the lunch or breakfast menus. In the end, we did both, pairing an order of hotcakes with a veggie sandwich from the lunch menu.
The sandwich was served with two mayonnaise based spreads: one spiked with sriracha, the other seasoned with dill. We split the sandwich and did the same with the hotcakes. The sandwich was good, the hotcakes even better. There’s a French toast made with house made banana bread on the menu. It sounds decadent. I think I’ll try it next time.
The Hotcake Cafe, 1183 Wilmette Avenue, Wilmette Il. 847.256.2099