Our most recent Chef’s Table event took place at one of River North’s newest hot spots, ¡Ay Chiwowa! Many people think of this location as a bar, not a restaurant, and in many ways they are correct. You will not find any restaurant tables or place settings, just high tops and bar stools. Despite that, the food is amazing and the participants in the Chef’s Table event were quite literally dancing in the aisles by the end of the evening. In full disclosure, the dancing was likely a combination of three things: the digital jukebox, the excellent food, and the awesome and seemingly endless margaritas.
Throughout the evening, the superb staff at ¡Ay Chiwowa! plied us with continuous servings of two of their signature cocktails: the Black Cherry Basil Margarita and the Ay Margarita. Both are worth a try when you visit. The Black Cherry Basil, in particular, is unusual but tremendously satisfying. If you’re a fan of tequila, by the way, ¡Ay Chiwowa! has over 100 brands available.
We began our evening with the Mango Guacamole & Chips. The chips are made fresh and served warm – a truly special experience that elevates them above your standard “tortilla chip” experience. The Mango Guacamole (mango, avocado, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, lemon juice) is some of the best I have had in the city. They have several other types of guacamole, so be sure to try them all when you pay a visit.
The second course was a serving of Shrimp Tostadas (shrimp ceviche, avocado puree). The ceviche at ¡Ay Chiwowa! is made in the traditional method, marinating in citrus juice for over two days to “cook” the seafood. When you bite into the shrimp, you get a burst of citrus, then the rest of the flavors meld together to create a perfect blend. The attention to detail in this simple dish is something that shows in everything they do at ¡Ay Chiwowa!
Course three was a tasty round of Chicken Quesadillas (adobo chicken and Chihuahua cheese in handmade corn tortillas). Rockit Ranch’s president, Arturo Gomez, flew his father in from Mexico to help craft the menu and this particular item is definitely one that is reminiscent of traditional Mexican street food – flavorful, filling, and just slightly messy to eat (in a good way).
The fourth course was one of the standouts of the evening – the Asada Tacos (filet mignon, watercress salad, garlic). These were served in the “soft taco” style and were several notches above any beef tacos I have tried before. The focus on filet mignon instead of lesser cuts of beef makes this dish something special and definitely another item that should be on your “must try” list when you stop in to ¡Ay Chiwowa!
Finally, we ended the evening with a serving of a traditional Mexican dessert – Churros with hot cajeta dipping sauce. Wow! What a perfect ending to an already excellent meal. The dipping sauce is what really makes these pop, and luckily most of us had paced ourselves just right so that we could at least sample these.
¡Ay Chiwowa! has four environments, a bar and dining room, a club room with a bar, a lounge, and an outdoor patio garden. The design itself is minimal with a large focus on the bar and back bar display. The canvas of the space is very neutral, black, white, and gray, layered with moments of bright vibrant color reflective of Mexico. Rockit Ranch has covered the walls with graffiti art, reminiscent of what you might see all over Mexico in bars and taverns. One of my favorite areas is the club room with its bright red booths and the cool, funky skull-covered wallpaper.
¡Ay Chiwowa! offers something for nearly everyone – proximity to the Brown Line, great food, excellent drinks, a vibrant exciting atmosphere, a digital jukebox, live DJs on weekends, and a hot spot for late-night fun in River North. Despite the assertion that they wanted to create a “dive bar,” Rockit Ranch has really created something that is far classier than that phrase suggests . . . and you can’t beat that rare and coveted 5 a.m. liquor license on Saturdays.