We were excited by the prospect that Alain's, the South Loop place from a Trotter vet and backed by the Bears' Israel Idonije, might have a Cameroonian influence on its fine dining menu. (We didn't know what that meant, exactly, but it sounded new and different.) Then we were disappointed to see the opening menu, that looked like standard "contemporary American." We were intrigued again when a Redeye review mentioned that there was some reason to call the food African-influenced, and now 312 Dining Diva's Audarshia Townsend— who tells us she went with her mom, who's actually been to Cameroon— comes back with the fullest picture of how chef Alain Njike works his homeland into the menu.
Though the menu offers classic American fare... the house-made seasonings and sauces are what take the dishes to the next level. Njike makes them with Cameroonian-influenced accents that are spicy and eliminate the need for salt. The signature Eto'o Fish is the "fish of the day" special (usually halibut) that's slathered in the special seasonings, then grilled and complemented by creamed corn and crawfish... Njike also pays direct homage to his homeland with creamy Bamileke potatoes, which come with the Wagyu beef. (The Bamileke people inhabit the highlands between the Mbam and the Noun rivers.)
Sounds as if Alain's might be playing it a bit safe in how the menu looks from the outside, in order to introduce its native flavors in a way that will win diners over gradually. In any case, we're definitely back to being intrigued by this unique blend of America and central Africa on an upscale menu. [312 Dining Diva]