Drink of the week:
Carnivale Martini at Carnivale, 702 W. Fulton Market.
The damage: $9.75.
Thousands of bars in Chicago, why this one? Despite the fact that I'm in her wedding and she made it into my T-Mobile myFaves, my pal Jamie and I disagree on a whole slew of issues, from politics to marriage to vacation destinations. I believe the most disturbing debate between us, though, regards food. To her, food equals fuel and nothing more; no matter how elaborate a dish, it always tastes just "fine." I, on the other hand, relish most meals I consume, from my blueberry-topped flax flakes in the morning to a decadent risotto for dinner. So when Jamie raved about a dish for the first time in the seven-plus years I've known her, I had to experience it.
We headed to Carnivale so I could watch her melt over its ropa vieja appetizer, sweet, perfectly seared plantains topped with tender beef, salty cheese and a zesty, mayo-based sauce.
How it went down: One issue where Jamie and I stand firmly together is on booze consumption, and we ordered a round—the raspberry mojito for her, the Carnivale Martini for me—the moment we landed in the bar area's velvet-backed chairs.
The mixologists at Carnivale use the term "martini" lightly, as the signature blend includes neither vodka nor gin, but rather makes Corazon Reposado tequila—aged in oak barrels for about a year—the star of the show. Cointreau, a touch of pomegranate juice and a splash of fresh lime juice cut through the tequila's bite, though its smoky flavor remains strong, with just a hint of citrus lingering at the end of each sip. Rich, buttery mango puree rests at the bottom of the glass; it provides a sweet finish or can be mixed in to further tame the tequila's kick.
Would I want to become a regular? Perhaps I've misunderstood Jamie all along. It's not that she doesn't care about food; she just holds it to insanely high standards, which the ropa vieja clearly (and rightfully) meets. The cabbage salad, studded with thick squares of yucca, cashews and shrimp, also had us seeing eye-to-eye. In fact, we were so consumed by our food and drink, we hardly noticed the merengue music, the striking red screen-printed light fixtures or the well-dressed, post-work crowd filling up the large space. We were even distracted enough to stave off any rousing discussions—that is, until it was time to decide where to go for our post-meal nightcap.
Dana Kavan scours the city for drink deals so good you'll offer to buy a round and creative libations that outshine your average on-the-rocks concoctions. Want to give Dana tips on where to rack up a bar tab? Share your finds before her next night out.