Native Foods, Wicker Park: I want to like Native Foods because I want to feel virtuous all the time. And you know, as a lover of food of all kinds, I can get down with veganism once or twice a year. But my Soul Bowl at Native Foods was two-thirds cardboard. (The Soul Bowl is made up of Southern fried Native Chicken (i.e., not chicken), red beans, rice, steamed veggies, and kale dressed with ranch and BBQ suace and served with cornbread.) After eating half of this dish, I came to the sudden realization that I do not really like kale. The Native Chicken was pretty good, for not being chicken and all. I might go back here for my twice-yearly “I need to feel virtuous” visit but otherwise…meh.
DMK Burger Bar, Lakeview: I refuse to go back to Fish Bar, so after my last hair cut, I dropped into DMK for a burger. They have a weird space issue going on…it’s like the space is just a little too big for them. But service was pretty cheerful and helpful and I liked my roasted hatch green chili, fried egg, sonoma jack and smoked bacon burger. My only complaint was the usual one: SOGGY BUN SYNDROME. I really need to remember to ask restaurants to toast my bun for me before serving. I really liked the lemon alioli they did with the sweet potato fries. Everything is served on small little plates though. That’s weird. I would still go back here though.
Siam Rice, The Loop: Dropped in here one afternoon for a quick work lunch. We got here on the early side, and for that I remain grateful. Because by the time we left, we couldn’t even get out the front door, so crowded was it. My Thai green curry — a standard by which I measure most Thai restaurants — was watery and missing its zip. I was very disappointed. I would not go back here. Or if I did, I would not have the green curry.
Hot Woks, Cool Sushi: Another quick lunch during the work week. I love the idea of a bento box, but in this one, the only thing worth eating was the vegetable tempura. (With one battered shrimp thrown in for good measure.) The chicken teriyaki was dry and flavorless and the California rolls were oddly assembled. I would not go back here.
I am still way behind. More Chicago, plus Mexico City, Doha, Tel Aviv ahead. Stay tuned.
I’ll let the pictures do the talking. All very lovely. Even at 9:15 pm on a Sunday night…We four (an American, a Ukrainian, a Moldovan, and a guy from India — if that doesn’t sound like the start of a joke, I don’t know what does — paid $85 for our food, $75 for wine pairings. Irina (the Ukrainian) opted for the juices for $38. Funnily, I had the same table as my first visit.
Service was nearly exactly the same as my other two visits, with two exceptions: They only replaced my napkin during one of my two trips to the loo, and they didn’t escort me there and back as officiously as Paris 1906.
I did like that although I had only bought two wine-pairings with dinner, they did let us add a 3rd wine pairing and the juices right there. (In contrast, during Paris 1906, we didn’t know one of our friends was pregnant until the night of the dinner. It wasn’t right for her to tell us sooner. I had already purchased the wine pairings for her. She downgraded to juices and well, still paid the full wine price.)
I still feel that the bathrooms could be more special. But these are piddly things to note when the experience overall is so lovely.
So when I had the chance to get in on a big group meal with lots of food at Opart Thai — the South Loop branch — I said YES. At something like $25 per person for a veritable feast of a set menu, it was more or less a no-brainer. (I’ve been using that phrase a lot lately. Apologies.)
Ah, high expectations…always destined to fail…
After our slimy and overly-sauced vegetable spring rolls, we were served up an order of the one Chinese-American-Thai appetizer that I’ve never been able to reconcile myself with…
…crab rangoon. Deep-fried cream cheese and scallions.
Personally…I think there’s only one place cream cheese belongs and that’s on a bagel. Bleh.
Tiger cry. Well, let me tell if…if I were a tiger and someone gave me a bowl of this dry, over-cooked nonsense (beef), I’d cry too. Hard.
This was the pad thai. The wettest pad thai I’ve ever had. Dry tofu too.
The red curry shrimp was about the only dish I had seconds of. The ratio of curry to shrimp, however, was like a gazillion-to-one.
The Basil Chicken reminded me of cat food.
The fried banana was nice though.
The Verdict: I think you get the point. The Lincoln Square location must be better because I really have no desire to ever go back here again.
The Background: Thai Village must seriously have one of the best lunch specials in town. $5.95 for three courses!!! Until 3 pm every day of the week.
Of course, I got there at 3:11 pm. No lunch special for me.
Groupon Has Been Here
Not only did I miss the lunch special, but if you can read that sign on the right, I also missed the Groupon. ($20 of food for $10!) I seriously wish I could help Thai Village with their signage. Such an atmospheric place. Such terrible signs.
Thai Village Crispy Roll
To start, I took my server’s recommendation of the Crispy Roll: rice wrapper stuffed with ground chicken, vermicelli, egg & bean sprouts; topped with tart plum sauce & ground peanuts. Maybe there was plum sauce here; I’m not sure. What I can tell you is that there was a very bright and tangy citrus sauce that made me happy all day, just thinking about it. I enjoyed this.
Thai Village Pad Se Eu
Much less satisfying was the glumpy Pad Se Eu. It had none of the brightness of the Crispy Roll. (Hey, I wasn’t expecting a lot–this is Pad Se Eu after all–but give me something.) The noodles were stodgy. The broccoli was scarce. I took a few mouthfuls and then had the rest packed up for later. (Luckily, the crispy roll was a very generous portion.)
The Verdict: Thai Village has a Bib Gourmand. Maybe that’s because of the amazing $5.95 lunch special. I’m not sure. Because otherwise, I don’t get it. I don’t think they’re doing anything special. I mean, maybe I’d order Thai Village for delivery it was raining, but I wouldn’t make a special trip back.