Rickshaw Republic, Starting 2016

Rickshaw Republic

So, here we are at 2016. Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2015 saw warm weather. The very end of the year went from moderate temperatures to icy overnight. That’s Chicago for you. With those temperatures hovering  near single digits, that means my appetite requires more satisfaction. My ongoing New Year’s Eve Resolution is to search for more food. Only two days into 2016 and I find myself in some restaurant experiencing food happiness.

Sate Ayam

Sate Ayam

Rickshaw Republic at 2312 N. Lincoln Avenue became my first new restaurant for the Near Year with international flare. Several years ago, I had gone to an Indonesian restaurant in Rogers Park and it has since closed. There is another restaurant in Lincoln Park that marries Indonesian and Dutch influence. However, I wanted 100% Indonesian, not fusion, not influence, not faux.

Sate Udang

Sate Udang

For one starter, I had sate ayam. This was chicken satay served on wooden skewers. Dipped in a peanut sauce and topped with crushed peanuts along with a small cucumber salad, I was off to a satisfying start. The sate udang, which was huge shrimp cut butterfly style and served on skewers with a ginger sauce and small cucumber salad, I was almost to my happy place.

Beef Rendang, Coconut Rice, String Beans, Corn Fritter

Beef Rendang, Coconut Rice, String Beans, Corn Fritter

At the recommendation of the server, I arrived at my happy place thanks to a plate of beef rendang, coconut rice, spicy string beans, potato and corn fritter, boiled egg, and zucchini and carrot salad. The panang and other gravies were addictive. I figured the string beans and fritter would be pedestrian, but they were anything but bland accompaniments. The curry gravy over the green beans was not overpowering, which allowed for tasting garden fresh beans. The corn fritter would make a perfect morning starter. The winners were the tender beef under panang gravy and the lip-smacking coconut rice.

Wedang Cincau dan Selasih

Wedang Cincau dan Selasih

I realized that I was not going to have any room for dessert, so I opted for something that would not be heavy on my stomach. The main cook, who I believe owns the restaurant, brought a glass of wedang cincau dan selasih to me. If anyone had told me that grass jelly and basil seeds in ginger syrup was a good option, let alone good for digestion, I would have smirked and ordered something else. Nary a drop of alcohol in it, I could easily become addicted to it as if it was spiked.

Rickshaw Republic has been in Chicago’s Lincoln Park for over three years. Since Angin Mamari, the Indonesian restaurant I mentioned earlier close, Rickshaw Republic is indeed the only authentic Indonesian restaurant in metropolitan Chicago. The inside is spacious. The service was outstanding, from the recommendations and the owner even coming out to chat briefly. Rickshaw Republic has another fan: me.

Oh, my realistic New Years Resolution: wait until leaving the restaurant to squeal with satisfaction if the food is really, really, OMG, really delicious.

Rickshaw Republic Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ben’s Noodles and Rice, And I Don’t Mean Uncle Ben’s

Ben's Noodles & Rice

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

December has arrived. As much as December is a festive month, it is also the time that I spend wondering what happened to the other eleven months in the year. In addition to that, there are several holiday parties that I have attended so far, each where I nursed one to two glasses of a nice scotch while I watched others relive their college days of drinking and not being aware that someone had a cellphone out recording their antics. But this December has been one where I have spent a lot of time in front of the mirror looking at my flat tummy thanks to a few months of CrossFit. (Insert bear growl.)

After a Saturday morning of doing some “dreamed up” CrossFit exercises, I had an appetite unlike I have had since I started CrossFit training in September. I finished off some pancake mix that a friend had given me along with a plate of eggs scrambled with sautéed onions and cilantro. I washed it all down with three glasses of protein shakes and my belly was still growling. There was waffling between going for Indian food or Italian for lunch. I settled on Indian as opposed to Italian and while on my way to my favourite Indian cafe, I walked by a Thai restaurant that looked to have a cozy cafe feel to it. Well, having never been there, I stopped in. Ben’s Noodles and Rice at 1139 W. Bryn Mawn Avenue was my destination.

Basil Rolls with Spicy Plum Sauce

Basil Rolls with Spicy Plum Sauce

I was not in a mood for pondering what I wanted. Truth be told, I glanced at the menu for some appetizer that I hadn’t had before. The basil rolls with spicy plum sauce caught my eye. It was meant to be because the fine, ground beef wrapped in basil leaves, wrapped more in finger-length pastries, and then deep-fried was a highlight.  A bigger highlight was the Thai iced tea, which wasn’t merely red tea with milk in it. This tea had a smoky flavour to it that heightened my addiction for the beverage. It may not be to the liking of everyone’s palate, but I was satisfied with its balance to the basil rolls.

Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum Goong

The temperatures in Chicago had been quite nippy, and being only a few blocks from the lake doesn’t make matters better, I wanted something spicy. I ordered tom yum goong and requested it to be Thai spicy. Warning: If you are not accustomed to eating spicy food, do not order your dishes Thai spicy. Instead, order them mild. I loved the peppery bite in each sip and final slurp of the tom yum goong. Plump shrimp, fresh mushrooms, cilantro, chives, and flavourful broth made for a perfect recipe in a bowl to make the wintry chill not so bad.

Panang Curry Chicken

Panang Curry Chicken

Fried Banana

Fried Banana

To thoroughly sate my appetite, I ordered panang curry chicken. It has been rather hard for me to deviate from Thai curries, being a culinary zombie for any curries. The panang curry was of a thin consistency, but packed with green peas, bell peppers, chicken, and a wow factor. Having had green curry, red curry, yellow curry, panang, and mussaman at countless Thai restaurants, I highly recommend to anyone that they opt for curries when they order. Definitely order the panang curry at Ben’s Noodles & Rice. And for my finale, I had the fried banana and a cup of green tea. Bananas dipped in coconut milk, deep-fried, and dusted with confectioners sugar are the best. They’re golden. They’re delicious. They make me smile. They are the best, indeed.

Ben’s Noodles & Rice is definitely one to go to for an authentic Thai dining experience. There was a constant flow of individuals coming in to enjoy a meal at the restaurant and a steady stream of customers coming in to order something for to-go. Noticing a lot of customers and the restaurant staff greeting each other by name and very familiarly, it was evident that Ben’s Noodles & Rice is common grounds for those who appreciate not only the outstanding food, but the top service. When I think back on the possibility of me having had Indian or Italian food for lunch this particular day, I am glad that I settled on Thai. Yes, I will be one of those customers who return to Ben’s Noodles & Rice so often that they will probably make recommendations for me in advance of me reaching for a menu.

Ben's Noodles and Rice on Urbanspoon

Thai Bowl Me Over

As much as I love taking personal holidays abroad, the one thing I hate the most about such vacations is WHEN THEY END. There is something incredibly wrong with being able to spend a great length of time away from work and work involved in holding friends’ hands and playing psychologist only to return to the very things you were thanking God for having escaped, even if only for a few weeks. No one ever said that life was fair. But I will be the first to say that returning to the great city of Chicago takes the edge off the disappointment a little.

Thai Bowl

I wasn’t off the plane that long before my stomach had started growling. Not that I didn’t indulge a fair amount of food while relaxing in business class on the flight coming back to Chicago, but my “Must Eat All the Time” switch got reset immediately and that meant jet lag and whatever else had to be put on hold until I dealt with my hunger. Needless to say, my mind was all over the place and I was not particularly in the mood for anything akin to fine dining or too fast that I would feel I had slipped back into indulging McDonald’s. So, I decided to make a quick dash to University Village, of all places, and go into extemporaneous mode after getting there. And where should I end up but at a hole in the wall by the name of Thai Bowl at 1049 W. Taylor Street.

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

If you are looking for ambience, forget it. If you want great service, albeit with conversational English, this is the spot. If you want some Thai food that will blast you off to Saturn, look no further. When I had arrived, the restaurant was empty. That meant having the pick of any seat in the restaurant and no sooner had I taken my seat, placed my order, pulled out the camera to prepare for taking photos, and taking the white balance to make sure the colour of the photos were true to life than a group of six giggling tweens came in and sat at the table IMMEDIATELY NEXT TO ME. I swear I am either cursed or emit something that draws people almost into my personal space any time I enter an empty establishment and take a seat.

Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum Goong

By the time my Thai iced tea arrived at the table, I had tuned out the incessant banter related to random Twitter feeds, some other young woman – not at the table – who had on an outfit that was unbecoming of her, embarrassing photos on Instagram, the laughable Miley Cyrus renaissance and her father’s stamp of approval on it, and requests for “Take a photo of me.” The iced tea really hit the spot and was a great segue to the bowl of tom yum goong. Oh so spicy, shrimp swimming so calmly in a tasty broth accented with lemon, tomatoes, mushrooms, cilantro, and ginger, my sinuses that had been compromised thanks to the pressurized cabin known as an airplane were relieved.

Panang Gari Ghai

Panang Gari Ghai

After finishing the bowl of tom yum goong and waiting a few minutes, the greatest love of all came to the table. I had ordered a panang curry with chicken. Thinking that I would receive a bowl of panang and a cup of rice, I was a bit dismayed initially when there was only a giant bowl of what I thought was only panang that had arrived. I pulled the bowl closer and saw that the panang had been poured on top of the rice. No problem, I thought, as I began mixing the curry and rice. There were baby corn, mushrooms, and green peppers in it instead of the usual green and red peppers. It was the flavour that left me dreamy-eyed. OH MY GOD! Being all involved with the dish, I somehow managed to work the chopsticks so properly that I had finished all except for a smearing of gravy in the bowl. Although I can’t say that I remembered if this happened, or not, but I have a feeling I was transported to Bangkok briefly because the authenticity in that dish screamed “All that other stuff you have been eating is all wrong.”

Tom Kha Goong

Tom Kha Goong

I had to return so that I could sample something else. The tom yum goong and panang curry chicken were not enough. For my second visit, I tried something different just to mix things up a bit. I started with a bowl of tom kha goong. This was such a drool-worthy bowl of soup, unlike what I have had at many Thai restaurants. Instead of seeming to have only a coconut milk base, there was the necessary hint of curry that made it that more appetizing. The mushrooms that burst with every bite, the fresh tomatoes that didn’t taste like they had been grown prematurely, the cilantro that you can never go wrong with in any dish, and the few morsels of shrimp created a recipe that makes for a fantastic year-round soup. I rounded out my meal with a bowl of basil chicken. Although not as spicy as I have had at other Thai restaurants, it still rang with flavour. Not wanting it to end, I saved some to take home with me so that I could continue my Thai happiness later, like around the middle of the night when I sleepwalk to the kitchen to raid the refrigerator.

Basil Chicken

Basil Chicken

The prices, I guess you could say, are comparable to what you find at other Thai restaurants. Where I think Thai Bowl may be cheating themselves is with the prices because the quality and flavours remove them from being “just another Thai restaurant.” It is clear that Thai Bowl is a favourite among the students at neighbouring University of Illinois Circle Centre and residents in the nearby area because there was a constant flow of them coming to get take-away orders. I understand fully. Logan Square may not be in the immediate vicinity, but for any food that bowls me over like Thai Bowl did, the return trips are worthwhile.

Thai Bowl on Urbanspoon Thai Bowl on Foodio54

Self-Assessment, Thai Style

Silom 12

At various times I take self-assessments that give me clarity and reality checks to keep my head out of the clouds. I have accepted the fact that I live in a trendy section of Chicago that is becoming more hip by the minute. I also accept the fact that I will not have a six-pack abdomen ever again – unless I do something drastic like resort to liposuction. At the risk of making a sexist statement, it is actually okay to be physically attracted to someone before dating them rather than trying ridiculously hard to convince yourself that you really want to wake up next to someone who makes your withdraw. And I acknowledge fully that Chicago is North America’s answer to outstanding food. Meanwhile, someone is saying, “No, New York City is” – where appetizers at brand name restaurants start at around $45.

Seafood Sauce and Chips

Seafood Sauce and Chips

With my condominium in the midst of going through some renovation, things are a bit all over the place. Bad enough I am all sixes and nines because of having things scattered, that does not interfere with my constant appetite. Rather than fidgeting around in the kitchen trying to concoct something to gobble before going to a Fourth of July barbecue to look at people devour chicken and ribs drowned in sauce, I figured I would get something righteous – and healthy, per my self-affirmation. Remembering a certain Thai restaurant that I have ordered take-away from several time, I left my condo in its disarray and zoomed to Silom 12 at 1846 N. Milwaukee Avenue.

Ginger Tea

Ginger Tea

The weather had been waffling between fair skies and overcast with a suspect look for a sudden downpour. So, instead of sitting outside and chancing having my food get doused by rainfall, I sat inside by a ceiling-to-floor window that opened up to the outside. It was the middle of the day and everyone was probably going towards the lake to watch fireworks – if there were any to be on display once the sun set. I had placed my order, got my camera ready, heaved a slight sigh, and three women came in and chose to sit next to me. Of all the spots in the empty restaurant, they sat next to me and gossiped loudly. I think I have been cursed.

Tuna Tataki

Tuna Tataki

I started with ginger tea to get my stomach ready for all the tasty food I was going to indulge. Let me just say that this ginger tea was not from a tea bag. There were crispy rice chips and a seafood sauce that had a faint hint of barbecue to it. How about that for the Fourth of July. This was a unique complimentary serving, light, yet blooming with flavour. My first hearty dish was an appetizer of tuna tataki. This was a very appetizing plate of seared tuna that was sesame-crusted with crispy egg noodles in a spicy Thai style seafood reduction. Served over julienne cucumber that came out of a garden, completely untouched by pesticides and “make it grow faster” enhancers, those three pretty-pretties had to watch my facial expressions of appreciation. I have had tuna tataki at several Japanese robata grills, but now I can say absolutely that Silom 12 has a version on its menu that is serious taste-worthy competition.

Larb Tod

Larb Tod

My next dish was larb tod. This was a plate of fried, ground chicken in rice powder and fresh herbs served with lemon over a bed of lettuce and red onions. I have a friend whose aunt had sent him hot curry from Thailand a few years ago and he prepared some larb for me that was immediately addictive. I was expecting the same from Silom 12, and it may have been the absence of the curry that detracted from what I was expecting. It was good, but I was thinking the first bite would have left me with a facial expression of wow. Nevertheless, my appetite refused to allow me complaining time, so the larb tod disappeared after I had worked my chopsticks on the dish for several minutes. And then came the dish that I was really at Silom 12 to have anyway – panang gari goong. That had been my dish of choice every time I called for delivery or take-away. The panang curry was sweet and spicy the way I requested, without leaving me with the feeling that my hair was on fire, though. Filled with red and green peppers, green beans, and plump shrimp, I was okay knowing that I could sit through any barbecue and watch people smear barbecue sauce across their lips, chins, cheeks, and every across their receding hair lines.

Panang Gari Goong

Panang Gari Goong

I washed the remaining lunch down with the ginger tea from the first cup and was then ready for a wrap-up of dessert. Per my server’s suggestion, there was banana wonton for my delight. Ripe bananas, accented with cinnamon and sugar, and fried inside of a wonton to a crisp went over so very well. There were slices of bananas on the side and a fantastic scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel and lime sauce. Now, I could have had Thai custard, sticky rice and mango, and perhaps some other Thai favourite. But the banana wonton was ideal for my ridiculous craving. Truth be told, I was in a complete meditative state after I had finished the dessert and downed the last cup of ginger tea. Everything was quite okay in my world.

Banana Wonton

Banana Wonton

It is a good thing that I had ordered from Silom 12 several times before my in-house visit. It is a must that I dine at the restaurant before I feature it on Chicago Alphabet Soup, so this trip was necessary. The price is comparable to what you find at all Thai restaurants in the Chicago metropolitan area. The service was several notches past outstanding. And if you like the lounge scene – i.e., seating, interior design, and ambient music – Silom 12 is the place for you. When all was said and done, I left with another self-assessment.

I will be going back.

Silom 12 on Urbanspoon

Even, A Draw, It’s a Thai

Thai AddisonIt was one of those days with a blue sky, a gentle breeze, something that only Michael Franks could describe in the lyrics of any one of his summer songs. But there was still the remnants of melting ice on the ground. The hibernating bear in me was hungry. Well, it had only been since breakfast. Needless to say, if being on a diet to lose weight was a part of my resolution for the year, I have since reneged on it. My appetite has been rather fantastic and I blame it on working out and eating constantly to gain more weight by the end of the year. The thing is once summer arrives and I am enjoying my Normal Rockwell moments at window seats in any of the countless restaurants in Chicago, I may surpass my anticipated weight goal in advance of December. In the meantime, the gentle bear Gino seeks his next food offerings.

Last year when I was driving off the map to an assignment in the West Suburbs, I ached for some Thai food on occasion. Addison, Illinois, is not a bastion of restaurants a notch or two above fast food. During a brief visit with a friend who lives in one of the adjoining suburbs to Addison, I discovered with disappointment that two of the best Indian restaurants in the Chicago metropolitan area had closed their doors for business. Oh the shock. The horror. The fingernails on the chalkboard. There was only one other ethnic restaurant that I had stumbled upon and I quickly recalled its location. In a strip mall with stores that are quickly shutting their doors, at 74 W. Lake Street, is Thai Addison. I had a few days of lunch satisfaction at Thai Addison before I came to my senses and accepted an opportunity in downtown Chicago so that I could cut my commute down to thirty minutes, with meandering time for coffee.

Golden PursesDuring lunch, the moderately sized restaurant fills with patrons who appreciate Thai food that leaves you nodding your head with approval. With it being a Saturday evening and it also being kind in the temperatures outside, most who would have been there were probably partaking of whatever came to mind. My belly was growling, the bear in me at it, so I wasted no time selecting what I would have to stop the gastro noises. Instead of an appetizer and an entrée or a soup and an entrée, I opted for an appetizer, a soup, and an entrée. Realizing that I had driven off the map the way I did last year for my assignment, it would have been a crime for me to have indulged a light dinner and then cursing myself on the drive back into the city because of self deprivation of all the good things I could have had from the menu. So, in a manner that is very much unlike what people expect when they see me, I opened my mouth and out lept Thai, me placing my order a bit more fluently than I realized. [Must speak more Thai so that I can go to Thailand and really butcher the language.]

Tom Yum Goong

I started with golden purses. Forget about Louis Vuitton. Burn the Coach bag. Ditch that fake what-not you bought from the corner vender. These drops of fried wontons stuffed with crab left me with a sentiment of never wanting crab rangoon again. I savoured them. I loved them. And if the purses were stuffed with money, I would have devoured the seasoned coins and smiled just the same. So golden, so delicious, dipped in the accompanying plum sauce, they whispered to my growling belly to hush.  And then a glass bowl of tom yum goong arrived for my second course. Flavourful mushrooms and plump shrimp that screamed when my teeth sank through them, I had to pick the bowl up and finish handling business. Having requested the soup to be spicy, I was thankful for the Thai iced tea I had. Wow, in all caps. There was a woodsy catch to the tea that could be dismaying to some. However, the light sweetening and the milk made for a perfect glass of tea. Now, initially, I raised my eyebrow when I saw the colouring of the soup. It was a butternut squash orange, not the clear broth that you usually get at Thai restaurants. But it was the first spoonful of wow that put the visual in perspective. Bliss. And the third dish kicked it up a notch. The panang gari gai brought to mind the panang I love at one of my favourite Thai restaurants in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighbourhood. Unlike at the Lincoln Square restaurant where the panang comes in a clay pot, the dish is served in a ceramic bowl with complementary rice. And having it spicy was a huge bonus. The taste just danced around on my tongue. Queue me turning over the table and breaking into dance, doing jazz hands, kicks, splits, and random people dancing with me in a choreograph of food rapture. During my past lunch outings, I never had any of the curry dishes because my co-workers, all of us of the ilk that eats in a communal fashion, preferred non-curry dishes. Quite a few were Indian, so I understood. It was having the pananag at Thai Addison for the first time and finding such favour in it that it was gold to me.

Panang Gari Gai

When I had worked in the West Suburbs, I never really took the time to sit and enjoy my dishes. There was a constant need to rush back to the office, lest the managers spontaneously combust and blaze bright for those who wished they really would have caught on fire. Considering my appetite, the lunch portions were small, although they really weren’t. I simply had never sat still and savoured the dishes. Granted, I had ordered what was commonplace comfort Thai because lunch was always with a group, I always have to see if the curry dishes are worthy when I am solo. Pad Thai, bamee noodles, pad see ew, and the like are great. But for me, the mark of great Thai cuisine lies in the curry offerings. Fact great service and a reasonable price, like what I experienced at Thai Addison, and I am so. And as much as I hate to say it, I will gladly drive off the map to get some yummy Thai food to keep the bear smiling. Kab koon krub.

Thai Addison Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The More Things Change

A Plate on Southport

Thai Iced TeaLately as I have been reading past posts that I have scribed, I have noticed that quite a few of the restaurants that I had gone to several years ago have since closed their doors to business. It is not that I expect all restaurants and cafes to stay open in perpetuity. But for those where the experiences were worth more than their weight in gold, seeing that they are no longer catering great service and outstanding food to a customer base can become a bit disheartening. And it is even more of a downer when you realize that for some, there had been friendships established. You always want to see your friends thrive in their endeavours.

One such case was Barberry Thai on Southport Avenue. I know the owner, having built a friendship prior to him opening the restaurant. I learned how to speak conversational Thai from him when we were not discussing politics, cultural memes, and economics. When he had mentioned that he was closing the doors, there was that empty feeling like losing something or someone dear to you. It was not just that the food was top, but that it was a friend who was involved. And recently, my flatmate had mentioned a restaurant called A Plate on Southport at 2819 N. Southport Avenue. When I got off the bus and walked the short distance to the restaurant, it occurred to me that I had been there before. There was a brief bittersweet moment, as I was standing in front of what used to be Barberry Thai. I was not having a deja vu moment. On first entry, there was still the exact familiar welcome that I always received when my friend was the owner. This time, only the faces had changed.

Tom Yum Koong
Still set up like a loft, there were the same seating arrangements on the upper level and lounge music playing in the background. I sat at one of the tables overlooking the ground floor from the loft balcony. Setting aside any pre-judgement about how I thought the dining experience would turn out, I ordered a tom yum koong for a start. With the weather vacillating between mild and chilly, I had a bit of sinus congestion. Nothing like a tasty non-medicinal remedy to clear the nasal passages and a spicy tom yum soup will certainly assist. Heat rising from my scalp and my nose starting to run, the soup was working its magic. Fat shrimp in a peppery broth was exactly what I needed and I slurped it to completion and to satisfaction.

Panang Curry ChickenThen came the panang curry gai. I have said several times before that I prefer my panang and my curries to be hearty, not of a thin base. The panang curry at A Plate on Southport is thin. However, it was so full of flavour that I opted to simply thicken it by adding the side dish of rice to it. That did the trick and it may be that I had also requested the panang curry to be extra spicy that it indeed pleased my palate more than it would have if I had ordered the dish with mild flavouring. Washing it all down with a tall glass of Thai iced tea — which by the way, would put Southern sweet tea to shame — I was rather gleeful after all was done. There really is no other word to describe my sentiments.

Honestly, I had gone to the restaurant a bit bent on not enjoying the visit. It turned out to be dynamic — if I can describe it that way. The same atmosphere that I remembered had apparently remained, friendly ghosts that were at peace and were more apt to make customers feel welcomed. Clearly the management is doing something correct, as the food and service were both indicative of such. The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the saying goes. I still keep in constant contact with my friend who had lured me to 2819 N. Southport Avenue for some of the finest Thai cuisine several years ago. Now the new establishment will pull me back again and again. A friend didn’t go away when Barberry closed its doors. That relationship still remained intact. But as of 4 November 2012, I gained a new friendship. Hello, A Plate on Southport.

A Plate on Southport on Urbanspoon

Of Finding Many Holy Grails

Ruk Sushi Bar and Thai Ciuisine

When it comes to recommended dining in Chicago, newspapers and magazines tend to promote certain neighbourhoods more than others. Lincoln Park. Lakeview. Andersonville. Near West Loop. Near South Loop. Hyde Park. Wicker Park. Bucktown. Logan Square. River North. Uptown. Downtown. These are the ones that receive the most press and rightfully so. But these neighbourhoods comprise a rather small percentage of Chicago as a whole. In my politically correct vernacular, restaurants in these areas tend to cater to those with milder palates, lest some editorial gets posted by someone who was red in the face from spicy food. Along the lines of seeking something not a part of the common recommended eateries, I happened upon a Japanese sushi bar and Thai cuisine restaurant in Chicago’s Portage Park. At 4431 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Ruk may be found. Granted Portage Park is undergoing an incredibly slow urban renewal, there are some pearls that are starting to dot the landscape as buildings that were once vacant have since transformed into bars and restaurants. Ruk is one of these new establishments.

Crunchy Shrimp Maki

With an interior that looks like it was once a sports bar but now has a minimalist feel, Ruk is a great culinary boutique for some of the best sushi and Thai cuisine in Chicago. Upon entry, you are greeted with a welcome and escorted to any of the window seats. Yes, everyone gets a window seat. Behind the counter were two young Mexican sushi chefs who deserve high marks. This is the second sushi bar I have gone to where the sushi chefs were Mexican and who could easily raise the bar for flavour in the food without compromising the authenticity of the experience.

Spicy Ebi Tempura

Hungry as usual and daring to boot, I ordered two maki rolls and a Thai dish. I started with a crunchy shrimp maki that had shrimp tempura, cucumber, scallion, tempura crunch, masago, spicy mayo, and kabayaki sauce. Although the shrimp had been cut, there was still a lot of it in the roll. For there to have been five pieces, it was filling and the preparation had so much flavour without going all over the place that I could have ordered another crunchy shrimp and not had any remorse about possibly not trying another roll. But I ordered a spicy ebi tempura instead. Shrimp tempura, spicy mayo, cucumber, and scallion worked together in a magnificent combination that had me nodding to the sushi chefs in appreciation — I sat across from the sushi stand. I had a mind to order another sushi roll, but I wanted to try something from the Thai menu. I must admit that I find it fascinating that there seems to be a constant pairing of Japanese and Thai in Chicago, neither pairing cuisine with countries that border them. I have only experienced a blending of Thai, Indian, and Burmese cuisines in Toronto. Then again, Toronto is Utopian in its cultural diversity. But that is quite okay. And it was just fine when the panang chicken came to the table. I have had panang that was so bad that I wanted to throw the bowl against the wall. I have had panang so good that my eyes rolled back in my head. And then I taste the panang — and I ordered it Thai spicy since I have no mild palate — at Ruk and all I wanted to do was hum while my foot kept tapping the floor. The panang gravy was not hearty, but it was thick nevertheless and the taste-vibrant green and red peppers were the ideal accent. To the cook who prepared that dish with fresh chicken and superb panang deserved an applause.

Panang Curry with Chicken

In fairness to the newspapers and magazines that give plugs to the aforementioned neighbourhoods as having the best cuisine, I understand that they want to promote businesses that will be comfortable for the multitude. Having gone to most of the recommended eateries, I can attest to how delicious the meals were that I had eaten. However, the atmosphere in many comes across “upscale sports bar for the professional man and woman.” Loud and boisterous, you have to yell to be heard. Dining should not come with aggravation, even if the food puts many New York City restaurants to shame. But a few miles away from those locations are some of the absolute best authentic cafes and restaurants. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I continue to seek many fooderies — my made-up word — where my appetite and I may be sated while continuing the quest for finding as many holy grails of dining as possible.

Ruk on Urbanspoon