Jamaican me hungry

Red Snapper Escovitch_3

It’s my belief that when you go to a good, unique restaurant, especially an ethnic food place, you MUST order the house specialty at least once. Case-in-point: The whole red snapper, escovitch-style (marinated in vinegar and spices and lightly fried) at Ja’Grill in Lincoln Park.

If the head freaks you out, they’ll even cut it off for you. They do red snapper filets as well, but the only way to really order this dish is bones, eyeballs, skin and all. Am I freaking you out? On to the appetizing portion of this post.

The fish is incredibly tender, juicy and light. The spices from the marinade deliver a slow-creeping heat that is perfectly counter-balanced by the sweet, slightly pickled taste of the peppers, onions and carrots that top the fish. For the few minutes that you’re basking in this spicy-sweet perfection, you almost forget about the side dishes: Rice and red peas, cabbage and fried plantains.

Cabbage Beans Plantains

I don’t think I have to sell you on the rice and plantains, but the cabbage may be the red-headed stepchild of this plate. Most people seem to ignore it. Big mistake. This cabbage is steamed in coconut milk, and it’s tender, sweet and buttery.

The rum punch is a winner too. It even passed our friend Neal’s test. He owns The Cafe at Veya in Anguilla, and he knows a good rum punch when he tastes it.

Rum Punch

I grilled our waiter about the spices used on the fish, but he was unwavering in his secrecy. Besides, even if I tried to recreate this dish, I’m sure it wouldn’t come close to Ja’Grill’s. If you’re bold enough to try, I found a couple recipes online that may interest you:

  • Bobby’s recipe looks good, although our waiter alluded to the fact that a slow and long marinade is crucial
  • This one looks good too, and a little more traditional

P.S. Thanks to Cassie for introducing us to this gem.

One Comment

  • Cassie

    Hands down the best “island food” in Chicago! Rum punch is served in a pint glass with an “island pour” of rum about 3 1/3 shots per pint! The sugary sweetness of the punch complements the spice of the scotch bonnet peppers on the escovitch-style snapper.

    P.S. One other must try is the fall of the bone tenderness of the honey wings off the appetizer menu!

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