Shaman Chicago Restaurant Review - New BYOB delivers top-notch small plates with Mexican flair

In a city full of Mexican dining options that range from high-end to tiny taqueria, new BYOB restaurant Shaman manages to stand out with innovative and exciting small plates.  With a constantly changing menu focusing on seasonality and locally-sourced ingredients, Shaman is the perfect place for a unique and delicious meal.

Duck Breast with Peanut Salsa, Chipotle Glazed Fingerlings, and Zucchini Pickles

Although she hails from Toledo, Ohio, Head Chef Natalie Oswald built a solid foundation in Mexican cuisine working in the kitchen at Frontera Grill and in Shaman’s wildly successful sister restaurant, Chilam Balam.  After diners at Chilam Balam began facing waiting times of two hours or more, owner and Mexico City native Soraya Rendon knew it was time to open a second restaurant.  Shaman’s space on Chicago Avenue near Ashland was once a Mexican bakery frequented by Rendon, before she began her life in the restaurant business.  The décor at Shaman is rather simple, but don’t let that fool you.  The food is fresh, sophisticated, and delicious. 

Sweet Empanadas with Peanut Butter, Seasonal Compote, and Oaxacan Chocolate

Chef Oswald says that she loves her job and it shows in Shaman’s dynamic menu, half of which changes the third Thursday of each month.  Oswald draws inspiration for her new dishes from ingredients that are in season for the best-tasting results.  Attention to detail is paramount at Shaman, where even the cheese and tortillas are homemade. 

Asparagus Risotto with Pine Nuts, Leeks, and House-Made Cotija Cheese

Shaman’s menu is made up of small plates to allow diners to try a variety of dishes and perhaps a new ingredient they may not have seen before.  The attentive and friendly wait staff does regular tastings of the ever-changing menu and is familiar with each dish.  Shaman recommends about two dishes per person.  Dishes range from $7-16.

Fried Green Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese Ranch and Chorizo

Some of Shaman’s dishes are twists on Mexican classics, like wild mushroom flautas with roasted poblano sauce and pea shoot salad.  Others are drawn from elsewhere and given a touch of Mexican flavor, like a perfectly crisp fried green tomato salad with goat cheese ranch dressing and bits of chorizo.  All of the dishes are good, but our table preferred Shaman’s fresh spin on Mexican classics. 

Delectable and Distinctive Pork Belly Tacos

If you feel like pork belly is a bit played out on restaurant menus these days, you are not alone.  Please do not let this stop you from trying Shaman’s pork belly tacos with salsa negra, kiwi pico de gallo and chicharon (pork rind).  This dish began as a one Shaman’s monthly items, but was so well-loved that it has become a permanent offering on the menu.  The tacos are a perfect combination of salty rich pork flavor and bright citrus salsa.

Grilled Swordfish with Habanero Carrot Puree, Hominy Salad, and Mint

Also highly recommended is the crab chile relleno, which is delicate, full of sweet crab meat paired with a subtle chipotle cream sauce and black bean salsa.  As for dessert, Shaman’s Oaxacan chocolate flan is a pleasant surprise.  A hint of cinnamon in the Oaxacan chocolate pairs beautifully with roasted plantain ice cream and the topping of Maldon sea salt provides a savory crunch that compliments the silky texture of the flan. 

Shaman is BYOB, and conveniently located at 1438 W. Chicago Avenue near Lush Wine and Spirits and the Noble Grape.  Shaman asks diners to limit themselves to one bottle of wine or six-pack of beer per party of two.  This summer, patrons will be able to enjoy outdoor seating.  Shaman takes reservations by phone at (312) 226-4175 and is cash only.  Shaman is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner.  More information can be found on Shaman’s website.  Shaman is highly recommended for a unique Mexican dining experience.

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