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

Gambling, No Win

The month of April has been a wonderful month for me. Having had a birthday on the fifth of April, I began a great deal of celebration. With many other friends having birthdays this month, that means I have been in feasting mode since the month began. Food. Desserts. Drinks. Reminiscing. All the good things. There has not been one day or evening that I have not been pleased from some type of food satisfaction. Even the night prior to me penning this journal entry I was at an Indian restaurant with a great friend having a fabulous time on some choley batura and four incredibly large shrimp. And to think that I woke with hunger again, ready for action, hankering to quiet the monster that growled endlessly. Being the puppet that I am, I figured that I would venture to the South Side down to Hyde Park to work my appetite on something at one of the many restaurants there. Through congestion and gauntlets of crazy drivers, I cursed and projected foul language the entire drive from my condo to Hyde Park. Shinju Sushi I arrived in Hyde Park and decided that I would start at 53rd Street and find something along that stretch. Thai. Italian. Barbecue. Japanese. Coffee. The selection was vast, but my hunger wanted me to be quick. So, I settled for Japanese at Shinju Sushi, located at 1535 E. 53rd Street. Upon entry, I had a bit of the welcoming feeling you receive when you go to saucy fast food joints but with a hostess who takes you to your seat. A rather cold welcome, a quick escort to my seat, and that was it. Not much of a problem, but while reviewing the short list of sushi options, one server came by and yanked the main menu. This was a red flag. Needless to say, I did not have a chance to see what was on that menu, just in case I may have had an interest ordering something from that bill of fare. Miso Soup Miso soup was one item I was going to order, but a server had brought out a bowl that I took for being complimentary. Enough to warm me up on the inside, considering it was brisk outside, I devoured the bowl of miso soup with a smile. By then, I had finished my order. I had a taste for gyosa, unagi maki, and shrimp tempura maki. No sooner had I handed the selection to the waitress than she returned with the gyosa. It was as though there was some telepathy involved. The chef knew that I wanted gyosa. Served with the accompanying sauce, this fried potsticker appetizer was tasty the way I have had other gyosa — albeit at room temperature. Gyosa After having the second of the five gyosas, the sushi came to the table. Again, the chef must have had some kind of telepathy because sushi does not come quickly unless it has been prepared in advance. And at the risk of sounding like a sushi snob, there was a hint of pre-packaging that I gathered based on the first bite. If you have bought any pre-made sushi or if you have ever had sushi or a maki and saved some for later, there is a certain texture that the sushi takes on. While not stale, each bite presents the feel of chewing gum that has been gnawed for half of an hour. This was the case with the unagi maki. In addition to the noticeable texture, the eel sauce on the maki was rather sweet. An indication of my gums experiencing a slight throb was hint enough that the unagi sauce on the maki was more saccharine than necessary. Little kids who thrive on sugary treats to perk their already-boosted energy would love the unagi maki. Unagi When it was time to consider having my way with the shrimp tempura, I had opted to leave a few pieces of the unagi maki alone. Yet again, there was the texture of pre-made sushi and at room temperature. Add to that the sugary sauce that had been used to douse the shrimp tempura maki. Oh were my teeth sensitive. Having a low sugar diet, and primarily avoiding anything with high fructose corn syrup and excessive quantities of sugar, my palate goes into overdrive, my gums come to life, and my teeth tingle like I have drowned them in ice water. I could only stomach a few pieces of the shrimp tempura maki. Honestly, the whole process was a case study in me forcing myself to eat and that is problematic considering I have an outrageous appetite that requires little coaxing for stuffing my jaws.Tempura Shrimp Shinju Sushi is one of those restaurants that I would have plugged shamelessly during my college days. The cheap prices — a buffet of $14.99 — and just the mention of sushi would have been enough for me to have stamped myself as sushi omnipotent, as though I had lived my whole life in Japanese going to the best sushi bars ever, and been a walking advertisement. After watching sushi chefs work their magic on fresh ingredients, it is easy to become a purist. Then you have sushi with questionable texture and excessively sweet taste. Well, you win some. And then you return to sushi bars where you have walked away teetering from having eaten so much fresh and tasty sushi and maki. Yes, you win some.

Shinju Sushi on Urbanspoon