Kyrgyzstan: Jibek Jolu

Jibek Jolu
5047 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60625

A new country checked off the list! Jibek Jolu has been on our “to try list” for ever (in fact it had even made it on to our hallowed real-life to do list whiteboard), so we were so glad to finally get there and sample Kyrgyz cuisine for the first time. Located in Lincoln Square, Jibek Jolu had a pleasant and bright dining room, with Kyrgyz tapestries on the wall and Russian music videos playing in the corner. Though we went in not knowing much about Kyrgyz cuisine, we were right in assuming it would include both Russian and trans-Soviet specialties. Some were familiar from our previous sojourns to Russian and other former USSR restaurants (Plov, Borscht, Pirojki, etc.), however some were distinctly Kyrgyz, like Beshbarmak ($12.00), a dish of diced, spiced lamb on top of boiled noodles. We started off with the Korean carrot salad ($4) which consisted of shaved carrot and spicy oil dressing, though the jury is still out if it is actually descended from a Korean dish. We also each ordered a plain blinchiki (an absolute steal at $1 apiece) which were amazing – sometimes blini can take on the consistency of doughy lead, but these were light, delicate and fluffy. Not ever having had this sort of blini before, we definitely became converts.

To guide us through our meal, we dined with our Russian friend (M2), an expert on traditional Russian and central Asian cuisine. M ordered the chicken drumsticks, called Okorochka ($7.99). L and M2 ordered Pelmeni ($11) and Vereniki ($8.50). The Pelmeni were stuffed with meat, more properly described as miniature meatballs of ground beef and onion, while the vereniki had a vegetarian potato filling. Naturally, everything was served with a healthy dollop of sour cream.  Both of the dumplings were totally delicious and we could tell they were homemade, right down to the dough. The Okorochka presented two well-spiced drumsticks paired with a filling set of sides: mashed potatoes, pickles, corn, a small salad, and a vibrant and flavorful spicy sauce that really made the dish. M2 declared that this was the best Russian food she had sampled in Chicago, putting fancier places like Russian Tea Time to shame. M2 said the food at Jibek Jolu was of better quality, more adventurous, and much less expensive than any other Russian or central Asian restaurant she had been to in the city, and even we non Russians would have to agree.

The service was sweet and friendly, and the restaurant was slowly filled with people speaking Kyrgyz (always the sign of a good place), and even a few grandmothers (so you know it must be good). M also noted a few little details that improved the service for him. For example, the server left a chilled bottle of water at the table (and didn’t keep annoyingly filling it every 5 seconds, a la Girl and Goat). The best touch was giving two napkins: silverware came wrapped in one napkin and then diners are supplied a second, meaning diners have one for their lap and one to clean off their silverware between dishes or bites – a simple, yet brilliant idea, and one we had never seen before! Jibek Jolu is also BYOB, with none of that corkage fee mumbo jumbo. Overall we loved this place, and it is definitely one of the best restaurants we have visited recently. Michelin is already on to Jibek Jolu, and reviewed it very favorably for their 2012 guide – so it seems that this gem won’t be hidden for long.

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