Nacional 27 (325 W. Huron St., 312.664.2727) livens up the season with its annual Cuban holiday menu, taking place Dec. 17-22. That’s when diners may indulge in chef Chico Vilchez’s sizzling prix-fixe feast that’s served family style. The festive fare easily outshines the typical turkey dinner with slow-roasted suckling pig and spice-rubbed jumbo prawns as the stars. But if you’re looking to spice up your own celebration with a Cuban-influenced dish, we recommend re-creating the shrimp adobado skewer with pineapple-vanilla salsa, one of the tapas from Nacional’s special holiday menu:
1 ancho pepper, minced
2 oz. chipotle, minced
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1 pinch cinnamon
1 oz. sherry vinegar
¼ tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cilantro
1 tsp. orange juice
12 extra large shrimp (16/20)
¼ cup pineapple-vanilla salsa (see recipe below)
1 fresh pineapple, halved and chopped
1 tsp. olive oil
1 vanilla bean
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
Directions: Skin pineapple and chop into large chunks. Brush with olive oil and oven roast at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Allow to cool. Slice vanilla bean in half, then remove seeds and add to sugar and water mixture. When pineapple cools off, dice and add to mixture. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Directions for shrimp: Mix ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Marinate shrimp for 2 hours; discard leftover marinade. Skewer shrimp (3 per skewer) and grill in skillet until pink. Remove and spoon one tablespoon of pineapple salsa on top before serving. The recipe serves four.
Nacional 27’s annual Cuban holiday menu is $45 per person, and the price includes wine pairings. Reservations are recommended by calling the restaurant at 312.664.2727.
Here are additional Cuban restaurants certain to spice up this season’s celebrations:
90 Miles Cuban Café, 2540 W. Armitage Ave., 773.227.2822. The bustling Bucktown eatery is BYOB ($3 corkage fee), which means you can amp up the non-alcoholic pitchers of house-made sangria and mojitos with wine and/or rum. Either one complements the signature of tender pork that’s slow roasted overnight with bacon, ham, fresh guava, prunes and malta.
Café 28, 1800 W. Irving Park Rd., 773.528.2883. You’ll find jalapeno mashed potatoes as a side dish at this venerable Cuban restaurant that’s now also BYOB. That’s an appropriate pairing for the mariscos al mojo de ajo, a light seafood stew studded with scallops, shrimp and mussels in a white wine and citrus sauce.
Café Laguardia, 2111 W. Armitage Ave., 773.862.5996. Live music is also on the menu at this tropical-themed treat that’s been around since the early 1970s. A great way to sample the menu is to order the Café Laguardia sampler and share items like the ham quesadilla, stuffed mashed potato, plantains, queso fundido and ham croquettes. Another great bet is the paella Valencia that’s made in the traditional manner with yellow rice cooked with shrimp, clams, fish, chicken, ham and pork.
Coobah, 3423 N. Southport Ave., 773.528.2220. Those looking to gather earlier in the day with friends and family should visit this Latin American restaurant for brunch in the Southport Corridor. Best bets include the breakfast empanada (stuffed with eggs, house-made pork sausage and Chihuahua cheese) and flaky biscuits smothered in creamy, chorizo country gravy. It’s an ideal meal before checking out the awesome boutiques along the Southport strip.
Habana Libre, 1440 W. Chicago Ave., 312.243.3303. The West Town BYOB is tiny and feels like you stepped into an authentic Cuban home. There’s a menu, in fact, that spotlights the owner’s grandmother’s recipes, including soups, paella and a number of seafood entrees. Most dishes are shareable, but a great celebratory meal is the pargo sudao, a whole red snapper that’s been deep fried and smothered in Cuban-Creole sauce.