617 N. Wells
Chicago, IL 60610
11 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday-Thursday
11 a.m.-midnight, Friday
1-10 p.m. Sunday
Lunch Entrées, $8.95-$10.95;
Dinner entrées, $10.95-$19.95
By Lee Barrie and Cindy Kurman
Original story appeared in StreetWise
Chicago’s neighborhoods are filled with restaurants that are—from the outside—innocuous enough to simply pass by without a second thought. They’re typically not using a publicist to spread the word and so you only notice them when a friend you trust gives you the heads up. This is especially true among Middle Eastern restaurants. There are many of them around the city but most stay under the radar.
We were pleasantly surprised when a high-powered husband and wife chef team suggested Kan Zaman, a Lebanese restaurant in River North, telling us it was one their favorites in Chicago. In a neighborhood filled with stylish, chic eateries, this place is less noticeable but worthy of the recommendation.
We should say at the outset that we like Middle Eastern food and we enjoy it on a fairly regular basis. It has a comforting warmth and enough interesting spiciness to tickle the palate without overdoing it. It’s also a healthy way to eat, in moderation of course. We’re not experts, but we’ve been in enough Middle Eastern restaurants to have a point of comparison. Kan Zaman stands up to the competition in a big way. The food is accessible but very good.
Entering on Wells Street, we liked the casual, comfortable seating and the warm room colors. The front windows open wide, bringing in the fresh air and sunshine. A nice display of Lebanese artifacts and artwork envelops the dining room. There are Western-style table and chairs on one side and cushion-laden Middle Eastern style seating on the other side. Take your pick.
We started our meal with the Vegetarian Combo, offering a taste of many appetizers, most of which we have tried at other places. We were pleasantly surprised at the quality and quantity of food. The Hummos had just the right amount of sesame tahini, the Baba Ghannouj was flavorful and smoothly textured; the Tabouleh was nicely herbed and chewy. The Falafel was crispy, tasty and not greasy. The Spinach and Cheese pie was subtle and flaky. For our main course, we chose to share a Shawarma dinner. As we ordered, we wondered if that would be enough food. No problem—the portion was very large and we noted how excellent the preparation was. The spiced lamb and beef was moist, tender and fresh.
The Kan Zaman menu offers a large selection of mainly well-known, popular dishes. There are nearly a dozen and a half choices for appetizers alone. In addition to the Vegetarian Combo, other interesting selections include Sautéed Mushrooms in a special marinara sauce; Lubia (sautéed fresh green beans in olive oil with tomatoes); Foul Modammas (fava been dip with garlic, hot peppers); Dolma (stuffed grape leaves), and Grilled Cheese (Lebanese cheese sautéed with olive oil topped with crushed pistachios, tomatoes and calamata olive). Hot appetizers include Kibbeh (deep fired bulgur spheres stuffed with ground beef and onions); Arayess (seasoned ground beef and lamb with garlic, onions and tomatoes); Makanek (spiced beef and lamb baby sausages sautéed in garlic and lemon-pomegranate sauce).
Salads are an important part of Middle Eastern cuisine and Kam Zaman doesn’t disappoint, with six familiar choices. Choose the simple Lebanese or Feta salads or go a step further with the Jerusalem Salad, Chicken Salad, Shawarma Salad and Fattoush.
Pita sandwiches are served with delicious Lebanese fries (seasoned with Lebanese thyme). Choices include Falafel, Shawarma (beef and lamb), Chicken Shawarma, Kafta Kabob (ground beef and lamb), Shish Tawook (marinated breast of chicken kabob), and Hummos.
Lunchgoers can enjoy very reasonably priced specials from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Excellent choices include a variety of kabobs: Beef, Lamb, Kafta or the Combo. The Mediterranean Sautée offers a choice of chicken, lamb or beef with sautéed vegetables, potatoes, onions, green peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms.
Dinnertime entrée specials that are worth a try include the Lamb Chops (baby lamb chops charbroiled and served with fresh tomatoes), Quail (juicy marinated charbroiled quails, served with tomatoes, onions and green peppers); Vegetarian Moussaa (sautéed eggplant, potatoes, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes). Seafood lovers will enjoy the Grilled Salmon, Shrimp Kabob and the Shrimp Sautée.
If you’re in River North and want to dine simply but well, we like this place. It’s been around for a long time and, now that we’ve been there, we’re not surprised. It’s also BYOB, so bring along a nice bottle of your favorite.
Note: DineWise is a weekly column appearing in StreetWise magazine. Lee Barrie is on the StreetWise board of directors and he and his wife Cindy own Kurman Communications, a Chicago-based public relations agency specializing in lifestyle, restaurant and hospitality strategic branding, marketing promotions, media relations and social networking. If you'd like your restaurant to be featured on the DineWise blog and in StreetWise magazine, please contact DineWise@kurman.com.