Skokie’s Best

Living on the border of Chicago and a few Northshore suburbs for almost my entire life, I have not been very lucky, food-wise. There’s Little India down Devon Avenue, Buffalo Joe’s in Evanston. But what about Skokie? Alas, Chef Armando Gonzalez (formerly Bin 36, MK) comes to town, village rather, and is quietly taking it over with his Latin American eatery. Libertad, meaning “freedom,” is exactly that: breaking free from your traditional taqueria and burrito joint. Influenced by Argentinian, Brazilian, and Mexican cuisine, Chef Gonzalez’s take on the ever so popular small plate dining experience also has hints of Mediterranean flavors. Are you intrigued? Keep reading.

The menu itself is small, with no more than fifteen items. A menu like this can go one of two ways: top to bottom perfect or disastrous. In short, it is obvious Chef Gonzalez and his staff have worked hard to develop their offerings. It is absolutely stunning. The menu is divided into three categories: vegetarian, fish, and meat. Being a small plate restaurant, it is only natural to sample dishes from all categories. Here are a few things we shared:

Service begins with a compliment from the kitchen, typically an individual soup. On this particular evening, we were presented with a split pea soup, infused with serrano peppers. A very smooth texture, this non-traditional soup definitely packs some heat. A wonderful start to the evening.

The hummus is a wonderful example of the conjugal relationship between Latin American and Mediterranean cuisine. A chipotle infused hummus is served with a very light chapati (Indian) tortilla. Texturally, the hummus is familiar. However, taste is where you truly see the beauty of Chef Gonzalez’s work. The chipotle flavor is not overpowering, nor is it very spicy. It adds a smokiness to what would be a fantastic traditional hummus.

The next course to come out was the peras salad. Lying on a bed of arugula, asian pears, cabreles cheese, and pecans each add a distinct element to the dish. Textually, the Asian pears and pecans provide a crunch, with the cheese complementing with a smooth consistency. Sweet and salty flavors are introduced with pears and pecans, while a balsamic vinaigrette adds a tangy bite.

With two vegetarian dishes down, a meat must make the list. Alas, pork belly. Served with white beans, chard, and truffle oil, this dish is absolutely divine. Cooked perfectly, the texture is crispy on the outside and melt in your mouth savory on the inside. The subtlety of the beans and chard are supplemented by the truffle oil, which shines bright in the dish.

Libertad has also made a huge effort to provide diners with an extensive beverage list. Bringing in one of Food & Wine’s top sommeliers of 2011, Shebnem Ince, Libertad offers a quite an array of wine, craft beers, and house-made cocktails.

Co-owner J. Omar Magana brings a modern feel to the decor, with pieces of his own artwork that make dining at Libertad very intimate (in part why there are no photographs to accompany this post…I did not want to be that guy). Dimly lit tables add to the intimacy, with the brightest lights shining over the small, open kitchen. Libertad utilizes its space as best it can, lining the walls with booth-like seats, tables amid the restaurant, and a bar with stools for solo or happy hour diners.

Without a doubt, service at Libertad is second to none. From the host to the wait staff to the beverage and food runners, Libertad definitely takes care of their guests. With the background that Chef Gonzalez has, I honestly am not surprised. These details, cuisine, decor, and service, separate Libertad from any other restaurant in Skokie. And with that said, Libertad is easily Skokie’s best restaurant.

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