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Shaman: Our Go-To Healer

By Melissa Wiley in Food on Feb 7, 2013 7:20PM

Devotees of Chilam Balam have long known there’s Mexican food and then there’s Mexican food. Mercifully, with West Town’s Shaman, you can devour yet more tortilla-wrapped transcendence. Built on the same sustainably minded ethos as its lovable Lakeview hermana, Shaman goes as far as any restaurant should to induce altered states of consciousness.

Shamans, as we all know—some with more direct experience than others—heal by bridging the visible and invisible worlds. And despite the fact that Chef Natalia Oswald works in a purely palpable medium, it’s magic she produces all the same, at least where our palate is concerned.

The same, alas, cannot be said for the décor. Thanks to a miasma of orange phosphorescent tube lights, you’ll be seeing your dinner through distinctly apocalyptic-colored glasses as the sun seems to approach its red dwarf phase. The good news is you could care less—about the lighting or the end of earthly existence—the moment you bite in.

The menu consists solely of small plates, and chances are your waiter will persuade you to order at least two per person. We were stark-raving, wild-eyed, breast-beating ravenous when we crossed the ocher-lit threshold. But we still found that, with an order of guacamole and crispy tostadas ($7.25), three plates really would have been ideal for two. A small Shaman plate, we found, is tantamount to a small entrée elsewhere.

But once you start in, you’ll quickly forgive your waiter for nudging you toward all-out gluttony. Of the four plates we ordered, our personal favorite was the grilled flank steak with roasted potatoes, crispy onions, guajillo sauce, and cilantro ($13.95), closely followed by the wild mushroom flautas with roasted poblano sauce, pea shoot salad, radishes, black beans, and queso ($9.95). In fact, we’d like to make a note of a provisional last meal right now—“Yes, yes, I know my time is up, but where are those flautas and my damn flank steak? If I’m going to go, I need some guajillo.” You get the point.

The shrimp enchiladas with creamy tomatillo sauce, pea shoots, and pickled chiles ($13.75) were the lightest of our vittles and the grilled pork ribs with honey bbq, cream, queso fresco, tomatillos, and pico de gallo ($13.95) the heaviest. But stuffed to the proverbial gills as we were toward meal’s end, we’re not knocking anything weighty that comes from this kitchen; we’d just suggest reining in the quantity. As it was, we only wished that some shaman could have made our already capacious stomachs a little bit more so for the time being.

Because it’s against our personal code of ethics to stint on dessert, no matter how many pork ribs we’ve had prior, we tried the gingerbread tres leches Kahlua ice cream with blackstrap whipped cream, compote, and Mexican chocolate ($7.50) and called it a helluva meal at that. If by chance some medium interceded the while on our behalf, so much the better—though we’d easily settle for a return visit and let the gods have a day off.

Shaman is located at 1438 W Chicago Ave.