Leigh | Chicago Reader

Recent Reviews

Re: “Sushi Wabi

Disappointingly unremarkable food. We had reasonably high expectations for this place because it is owned by the folks who own De Cero, which is one of our favorites. We were so disappointed! I know there are a lot of good reviews for this place, but many are a couple of years old and my guess is that things have changed since 2004. The dishes were not even remotely innovative, and yet the prices were higher than they would be at most other places that serve the same standard fare.

Almost everything we had was bland. From the ginger dressing salad to the spinach gommae to the "spicy" tuna roll ($9 for this plain roll) and the alaska roll, everything tasted the same: like nothing. The exception was the salmon tartare, which would have been fairly good if the mayonnaise-like substance it was in had any flavor - you'd be much better off getting salmon sashimi without the tasteless gunk. The best thing here was the hamachi nigiri, but at $8.00 an order we felt this was fairly overpriced for something you can get at most comparable sushi places for less.

The fact that the nigiri was tasty would have lead me to believe that raw fish is what they do well, but unfortunately even this did not prove to be true: the tuna we had was cold and flavorless with a fishier odor than is usual. The hot scallop appetizer was the only thing that wasn't bland, but we wish it had been - three small scallops drowning in a neverending sauce that would have been tasteless were it not for a sort of acrid flavor permeating the entire thing.

Beyond that, there just wasn't anything on the menu that I haven't tried elsewhere, and the ambience wasn't enough to justify the inflated prices. Why pay more for the same old thing when it's not even as good? We definitely won't be going back.

Posted by Leigh Jurecka on 08/25/2006 at 1:01 AM

Re: “Japonais

What is the deal with this place, and why is everyone always raving about it? We've been there twice now, and have been extremely underwhelmed both times. The first time we tried a variety of different appetizers and sushi, and found that the food was fine but definitely overpriced--considering it isn't nearly as good as many of the other less expensive japanese fusion restaurants we've tried in the city (ie. Coast, Wakamono, or Tokyo 21). But we kept hearing from our friends about how great Japonais is, so we decided to give it another shot last night just in case we had caught it on an off night.

This time, we decided to take the server's suggestions and get the Seven Samurais, a house specialty of lobster, scallop, king crab, tuna, octopus, salmon and botan ebi tartares served with Japanese togarashi crackers. Sounds delicious, doesn't it? The presentation was beautiful and the food was not terrible but definitely not spectacular. The flavour just was not completely there, and the fish didn't have much taste as though it had been sitting in a fridge for too long.

After that we shared the two main courses that were most highly recommended by our server: the grilled hamachi served with shrimp and scallop dumplings in a light wild mushroom broth, and the "Le Quack Japonais", a whole maple leaf smoked duck with hoisin sauce, mango chutney and mushu wraps. Honestly, neither of these dishes were all that great and definitely did not leave me wanting more. After ordering the hamachi cooked extrememly rare (again, at the server's suggestion), we found it to be slightly rubbery and way overcooked (even had it not been ordered rare!). The sauce was pretty good but not enough to order it again. The duck was fairly well-prepared but the abundant small pieces were full of gristle and we found the sauce to be syrupy and overbearing to the point that none of the other flavours came through. The mushu pancake was not as good as those I've had in any Chinese restaurant.

So why is Japonais so popular? My feeling is that it's all hype. We've given this restaurant two shots and both times have been extrememly disappointed with the food. The only thing I can imagine is that the people who are blown away by the food here have just not been to other places with similar food prepared by chefs who are more adept, but they are out there! The atmosphere is good and for those who are more concerned with being in a trendy, attractively decorated place than the taste of their meal might not mind the ridiculous prices they are asking for food that is honestly sub-par. The menu sounds divine and if the food was as good as it sounds I'd be happy to pay the price. But it's just not.

My suggestion is to go to Wakamono, Coast, or Tokyo 21 where the food is much better, the atmosphere is just as good, and the prices are at about a third of what they're asking for at Japonais.

Posted by Leigh Jurecka on 08/09/2006 at 5:30 PM

Last week my brother and his girlfriend were in town and we found ourselves downtown at lunchtime and looking for a place to eat. I hesitated over taking my brother to VTK, despite the fact that it is one of our favourites. I was worried he would diss the place for being less authentic and more expensive than many of the little thai places he frequents in Toronto. But the food was so delicious they were both just raving about the place, and we ate every last bit of food on the numerous large platters. It never ceases to amaze me how consistently delicious this restaurant is. Our favourite dishes are the coconut thai curry chicken over noodles (the flavours and textures of this dish are to die for) and the tamarind tenderloin (expertly cooked with a mouthwatering sauce), but even the old standby pad thai is amazingly good. The only thing I would warn first time goers away from is the appetizer platter - not terrible but nothing special, and a waste of stmach space at a place that has so many other trulyu amazing dishes. The calamari appetizer is a MUST...even my brother's girlfreind - who does not like calamari - was blown away by this dish, which has been remarkably tender and delicious without fail every time we have ordered it (pretty much every time we come!). If you're into fancy fun exotic drinks, there is an extensive list of fun and delicious drinks at surprisingly reasonable prices. Oh, and don't forget about dessert, especially the chocolate-filled beignets (even if you're overly full, you can fit one of the lunchtime portions they serve for only a dollar or two). A great place to take out-of-town visiters; my brother and his girlfriend have not stopped talking about it since!

Posted by Leigh Jurecka on 08/07/2006 at 12:19 PM

Re: “New Tokyo

Don't be fooled by the price and decor, this little place serves fish as fresh and tasty as the most expensive and trendy places in the city, only with slightly less fanfare. We are consistently surprised by how fresh and delicious the fish is here. Even more surprising is how well-executed their lengthy list of appetizers are: from tender chunks of tofu served with spinach gommae in a delicious twist on the traditional sesame sauce, to mouth-wateringly tender scallops served in a broth that is good enough to drink, to expertly cooked takes on more traditional favorites like steamed shrimp shumai with spicy mustard. New Tokyo is easily the best sushi spot on this side of Lakeview, and the only place we've found where you can get fish this tasty for neighborhood sushi spot value. The only drawback is the venue, which is small and bright and often slightly crowded.

Posted by Leigh Jurecka on 08/01/2006 at 10:02 PM

Re: “Karyn's Fresh Corner

My husband and I went to Karyn's Raw for dinner after coming off of a 4-day juice fast. In order for fasting to be effective, it is important to ease back into a regular diet with a few days of raw foods only. We were very excited to try Karyn's Raw as we are big fans of raw foods and actually cook raw gourmet meals ourselves from time to time at home.

Unfortunately, Karyn's was a big dissapointment. Not only was the food less flavorful than the raw foods dishes we have prepared at home or eaten at other restaurants that serve raw foods (including Chicago Diner), but Karyn's doesn't even use all organic vegetables and fruits (which is an extremely important factor in a raw diet!!). Moreover, the wait staff seemed to have no idea what was in any of the dishes they were serving, and in fact there seemed to be no one informed on this in either the restaurant or the adjoining raw foods store. For example, when my husband asked what was in the stuffed pizza, we were told by the waiter that it was filled with asparagus, peppers, and nuts. In actual fact, the filling consisted mainly of both black and green olives (of what seemed like the canned variety), which came as a complete surprise. Moreover, when we asked what was in any of the four desserts they had on display that day, no one who worked there had any idea other than "honey".

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that if you're going to run a raw foods restaurant, it would be even more important than usual to have a staff that is knowledgeable about the food, as many of the patrons are on special diets (i.e. the people at the next table were also coming off of a juice fast) and are there because they are particularly concerned about what they are ingesting.

Beyond all of this, however, the food just didn't taste good. As the only all raw foods restaurant in Chicago, Karyn's has the market cornered and I'm afraid that those who haven't tried meals prepared entirely from raw foods will chalk the taste of the meal up to the fact that this is raw food. Don't be fooled, as raw food meals in actual fact can be delicious and taste much better than what they are serving up at Karyn's! If you are interested in the novelty of a raw foods meal, I strongly suggest going to the Chicago Diner, which has a couple of daily raw foods options that are delicious.

Posted by Leigh Jurecka on 07/31/2006 at 12:02 AM

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