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Re: “Amarind's Thai Restaurant

Spurred by friends' recommendations and Laura Levy Shatkin's positive Reader review, we tried the fare at this new eatery on a recent early Saturday evening, and were impressed. It is located just across North Avenue from Oak Park; street parking was a breeze. Tasteful and understated, the decor is a great improvement over that of Rum Thai, the restaurant which previously occupied this spot. The decor and elegant background music matches the food, which is relatively high-rent Thai with some creative--and delicious--modern Western touches: Amarind's Noodles, for example, being spinach, and more like Italian pasta than Thai rice or cellophane noodles. We found the service efficient and unobtrusive; our waitress accomodated a last-minute change of order with a smile.

The Chive Dumplings were wonderful: light, delicate and perfectly complemented by their little puddle of complex dark sauce. The Minature Eggrolls, too, were good, crispy and flavorful, with just the right balance of textures in the shrimp and chicken filling, and served with a sauce in which the sweet and sour blended harmoniously.

Our Tofu Salad had a nice mix of flavors and textures, although the "sliced academia" listed as an ingredient caused me concern over the likely plight of any scholar who might venture too close to the kitchen.

Two of our three entrees were exceptional: the Amarind's Noodles mentioned above (possibly the restaurant's signature dish?) was loaded with shrimp and crab, and the pasta was cooked to perfection; the dish was bright, tangy and fresh-tasting--I highly recommend it. The seafood in lobster-and-wine sauce was superb, too. The prawns (i.e. shrimp) were firm and tangy-- unlike their overcooked and flavorless counterparts served in so many restaurants--and the squid and scallops a delight. Amarind's was an exceptional rendition of this dish, and one that puts some Chinatown restaurants to shame. Our fourteen year old liked his Lard Nar, although he remains loyal to the version served at New Pot, a mile or so away.

On the whole, a very welcome addition to the area, and all the more so because (as of this writing at least) Amarind's is BYOB.

Posted by Robin Blench on 12/23/2001 at 2:58 PM

Re: “Ristorante Agostino Gustofino

Agostino's is a gem of an Italian restaurant. It's relatively small, its neighborhood is decidely unhip, it's somewhat noisy,its menu is not extensive and its prices are high (my wife's entree--a special of pasta with seafood featuring a couple of lobster tails--cost $28). The point, though, is that Agostino's has supremely fresh seafood--even a pedestrian dish of baked clams had a briney tang--prepared with consummate skill, and they don't stint on the marine life. The non-seafood dishes are good, too: a portion of penne and artichoke hearts made the vegetarian in our party very happy; a humble spaghetti with oil, garlic and hot pepper was superlative. Two dishes I would highly recommend are the fish salad (great for two or three as an appetizer) and a Risotto Pescatore that blew me out of the mare.

A good green salad or soup is included in the price, portions are large, and there is an adequate wine list.

Posted by Robin Blench on 10/03/2001 at 8:36 PM

Re: “Duke of Perth

After taking in a movie on Father's Day evening, it was a pleasure to eat in the "Duke of Perth"'s walled garden, a relatively peaceful oasis of sorts in a hectic corner of town. Oddly, there weren't too many dads or other customers, despite the beautiful weather and the lure of a vast array of currently oh-so-popular single-malt whiskeys.

The service was polite and efficient, and my Fullers ESB--one of the top English beers--as enjoyable and fresh tasting as in a good London pub. My meal of fish and chips proved a good choice: a huge portion of flavorful fish in a truly light and crisp batter with chips that were a lot closer to the real thing than the usual french fries, and peas--the classic accompaniement. At this point I should admit to growing up on fish and chips in a pre-McDonalds England. My memory refreshed by a very recent visit, during which I indulged in the meal in question more than once, I can say that the Duke's rendition of this iconic dish is excellent--the best, in my opinion, in the Chicago area.

My son ordered the steak and kidney pie. His verdict: It didn't reach the level of his grandmother's, but was very good. I concur. It was really a soupy steak and kidney stew with a puff-pastry lid, not the classic pie which is richer, darker, thicker and less herb-y; nonethless, it was delicious. One problem: when we asked our waitress for HP or generic brown sauce (loosely, a British version of A1 steak sauce), she was able to provide nary a drop. Duke, where the hell is the brown sauce? Steak and kidney pie without brown sauce is like haggis without whiskey: you can eat it, you can enjoy it, but something's missing. Next time we're going to bring our own.

The meals came with a small mixed-lettuce salad which was suprisingly good. Prices were very reasonable, and the experience such an enjoyable one that I can forgive the reference on the menu to--if memory serves--England as "Englandshire. . .a small county to the south of Scotland," especially as the brave heart who is in charge of the beer clearly knows what he's about.

2 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Anonymous on 06/21/2001 at 11:03 PM

Rambutan is one of many restaurants in the mode of Pasteur, Arun's, Don Juan's on Halsted and the like: it takes ethnic food and elevates it (or, depending upon your perspective, yuppifies it). The difference between Rambutan and most of the others, though, is that its foundation fare is Filipino, and the Phillipines is a nation which, by reputation at least, does not enjoy the most sophisticated of cuisines. I have heard it described (by an Irishman) as the Irish food of the East. Chef/owner Jennifer Arana doesn't have, therefore, the broad variety of dishes and the extensive range of ingredients of Thai or Mexican or Vietnamese cooking to build upon.
This having been said, she and her youthful crew do a wonderful job! During a recent visit, our party of six enjoyed perhaps 50% of both the appetizers and entrees on the menu, every one of which was innovative and beautifully prepared from fresh, high-end ingredients. My favorites: the dimunitive Lumpia, the Empanaditas, the Duck (confit) Adobo, and a special: lovely young lamb chops with superb whipped sweet potatoes (the only item I didn't enjoy was an "accompaniment," Pinkabet, a sort of Ratatouille; it lacked the sparkle of the other dishes). The two desserts I sampled were excellent.
A suggestion: try the Newcastle Brown Ale. It might seem odd that a North of England working man's beer complements neo-Filipino dishes, but its slight sweetness and medium body goes well with all but the lightest of Ms. Arana's offerings.
The service was polite, our waiter knowledgeable, and the circuses great: although the main dining room had that slightly speedy, somewhat crowded, marginally noisy ambiance which characterizes most hip, mid-priced feeding holes these days, we had the good luck to be seated in the kitchen at the "Chef's Table," a la Charlie Trotter. This was not a Trotterlike privilege, but simply because I reserved late, and the dining room was full. It was a pleasure watching Chef Jennifer, amongst the bustle of the kitchen, inspecting and arranging the dishes with a single-minded seriousness.
Rambutan's portions are small (our waiter referred to them with some degree of accuracy as "tapas size"), so be prepared to order about 1 1/2 appetizers and entrees per person. Prices are reasonable for the high quality: we spent about $35 bucks apiece, including beer and tip.

Posted by Robin Blench on 05/01/2001 at 8:21 PM

A lively, comfortable place with a nice mix of diners. The young waitstaff were helpful and friendly, and the food flavorful and innovative. The noise level--even on a Saturday night--was reasonable, and diners were not packed cheek to jowl as in so many trendy eateries.

The crab cake appetizer was superb--as Laura Levy Shatkin indicates in her review; oysters, both cooked an raw, were fresh and delicious; and the lobster "Margarita" a ten; only the guacamole was nothing out of the ordinary.

Every member of my party was impressed with their various entrees--the duck confit, the venison, the lamb shank and medallions of pork--all rich and balanced, with well-chosen an well-prepared accompaniments; the portions were large, too.

One caveat: good as the appetizers were, they strike me as being over-priced: ten bucks for one crab cake, even if its the best in town? On the whole, though, a very good restaurant. Thanks, Rick Bayless, for starting a trend which, though it veers further and further from Mexican roots (confit, crab cakes), engenders some pretty satisfying dishes.

Posted by Robin Blench on 04/01/2001 at 7:59 PM

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