When I first arrived at Carnivale Restaurant, I was greeted by, Carnivale letters lit in bright colors. The sign was very welcoming and I began to get a taste of what to expect inside. Carnivale is nestled away at 701 West Fulton Market in Chicago’s Fulton Market District in the West Loop. Fulton Market was once a manufacturing district that has been transformed into a residential neighborhood. The restaurantis set among a street of old warehouse buildings now converted to bars, restaurants, condos, apartments, retail and business offices.
Viewing the front entrance of Carnivale is one thing, but entering the building is a completely different story. When my boyfriend and I went inside, our eyes took in a mixture of in-your-face of energetic, vibrant colors, shapes and interior décor, detailed chairs and tables, and loads of photography all over the walls, donated by various artists. Billy Bracken, a partner of Agency 360, gave us a private tour of the restaurant. Because he knew the restaurant so well, he was able to bring our attention to the beautiful décor as well and the many private party and rental rooms available.
Once inside the restaurant Manager, Sam Madonia, new head chef, Rodolfo Cuadros, and owner, Jerry Kleiner greeted us warmly. I had been very interested in coming to Carnivale for many years and was thrilled with the opportunity to explore Chef Cuadros’ new, revamped menu.
Carnivale offers cuisine from different regions of the world, such as the Caribbean, Spain, South and Central America, influenced by Latin flavors and aromas. Chef Cuadro’s food is influenced and inspired by Hispanic cultural roots. He grew up in Columbia, learning how to cook helping and working with his mother and aunts. Once he moved to the United States, his fantastic career as a chef took off. His passion for Latino and Hispanic food and culture has taken him to South America, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.
Before dinner began, my boyfriend and I were led to the bar where we sat and had drinks. It was a nice, large room with Carnivale’s signature colorful pizzazz all over, as well has TVs showing old black and white noir films. The wall behind the bar was covered with every liquor and alcoholic beverage you could think of. Our very friendly barkeep, Luis, was very knowledgeable about the drink menu. He made a signature Carnivale Margarita with Espolón tequila, Cointreau and limonada for me and my boyfriend had a Smoky Bandit drink which consists of Illegal mezcal joven, pink guava purée, muddled cucumber, lemon and ginger beer. My margarita was crisp, clear and refreshing. The Smoky Bandit was delicious with hints of citrus, ginger and lemon.
After we finished our drinks, we were seated at our table ready for dinner to begin. The dining room was my personal favorite in the entire restaurant. All of Carnivale’s designs, colors and intriguing décor came together for an eye-popping dining experience. For me, at least, part of a great dining experience is not just consuming wonderful food and drink, but also involves a nice atmosphere. The look of a restaurant can enhance the dining experience. I always prefer dining at restaurants with appealing décor as it adds to the overall meal experience.
My boyfriend began our several course meal with delectable appetizers. First we shared some of the creamiest and tasty guacamole we have ever had. It had chunky avocados, cilantro, chilies, onion, garlic and lime in it. The tortilla chips were nicely baked and paired well with the guacamole.
Being a huge fungus and cheese fan, I also order the Wild Mushroom Coca, which is a sourdough flatbread with forest mushrooms, caramelized onions, goat cheese, dark green, peppery arugula and truffles (I am a vegetarian). All of the wonderful ingredients mixed together perfectly and created a nice balance of delicate and powerful flavors. My boyfriend loves his meat and had Tacos de Pescado with tempura cod, vigorón slaw and chipotle aioli. He found them to be different-tasting yet spicy and delicious.
Moving on to our main courses, we were beginning to feel quite full, yet excitingly anticipated our main courses to come. Our server had confided in us that Chef Cuadros would be personally stopping by our table with samples of dishes and desserts from his new menu. For the main dishes, I was served Fideos, a housemade pasta with wild mushroom sauce and parmigiano peggiano. The wide noodles were perfectly coated with a superb mushroom, spiced sauce and the parmigiano peggiano had a good sharp, salty flavor to it. My boyfriend ate the Arrachera, a grilled skirt steak with rice, beans, bacon sofrito, sweet red onion and chimichurri sauce. He fell in love with the medium rare steak and its many ingredients and savored every spicy and juicy bite.
So far, all the dishes we were served were beautifully laid out and looked too nice to eat. This was also how we felt when we presented with a trio of spectacular-looking deserts, courtesy of Chef Cuadros. They all looked too pretty and elegant to disturb and ruin with our forks and spoons. He explained each dish in detail to us and we salivated looking at them all.
The first one we ate was a plate of freshly, baked cinnamon sugar churros, a type of Spanish friend doughnut, which I have always had a fondness for. The churros came with Blommer’s hot-spiced chocolate sauce for dipping. (The Blommer’s famous chocolate factory is right down the street). We couldn’t get enough of the wonderful and warm dough accompanied with sweet cinnamon sugar. The dipping chocolate sauce made the dish a perfect duo of tastes and flavors.
The next dessert sampled was a milk chocolate cigar playfully laid out on an ashtray plate and a banana leaf. Smoked Zacapa rum ice-cream with Oreo ash came with it. The milk chocolate cigar was smooth and creamy though we were not as impressed with the ice-cream. However, the star of the dessert trio was the Devilish chocolate raspberry cake. This was our favorite, which consisted of the wonderful chocolate cake, milk chocolate shavings and mango escabeche topped with raspberry sorbet. Each bite was a bite of heaven for our taste buds though we were full to bursting with food.
When I learned that on Wednesday evenings there is live music in the bar lounge, I was really disappointed that we selected a Thursday for out dinner. It would have been fun to listen to live music while we ate! This is something I always enjoy so I may need to return on a Wednesday night.
This was a wonderful evening of great food and drink, fantastic service and beautiful interiors. Everyone was welcoming and attentive, and took great care of us. I felt that I was a very lucky individual to be able to sample this great-tasting new menu. I will definitely be going back in the future to see what delicious culinary inventions are to come at Carnivale.
Carnivale restaurant is located on 701 702 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60661.
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11:30 am - 10 pm, Friday 11:30 am - 1 am and Sat 5 pm - 1 am
For more information about Carnivale Restaurant or to make a reservation, visit http://www.carnivalechicago.com/ or call 312-850-5005.