Friday, January 24, 2020

It’s Restaurant Week — grab your wallets!

Chef Sangtae Park at Omakase Yume
     Chicago Restaurant Week 2020 begins Friday.
     OK, it’s not a week — it’s 17 days, which perfectly reflects the inflation that creeps into fine dining. Seven can easily become 17 by the time drinks and tax and 20% tip and 3% staff health insurance fee — it’s a thing — are factored in.
     For instance. During winter break, I lured my boys home from law school by promising they could each pick a swank eatery and dad would pay. It worked. Both chose places offering a prix fixe meal which, in my naïveté, I thought meant in return for a set amount of money, we’d get dinner.
     Ah, hahaha. Dewy innocence.
     The older boy chose Omakase Yume. It’s hard not to be charmed just walking into perhaps the smallest restaurant in Chicago: eight seats around a tiny wooden sushi bar.
     “It’s very Japanese,” I said, somewhat idiotically, thinking of Suntory Jigger Bars in Tokyo. It was quiet: light classical music, the octet of customers sitting in rapt expectation, watching Chef Sangtae Park create eight perfect pieces of raw fish—amberjack, yellowjack, three kinds of tuna — on oblongs of rice, then solemnly set down a piece before each guest.
     The highlight was salmon, which Park smoked in a rectangular cedar box. A lovely bit of restaurant theater, the woodsmoke delightful, the sushi exquisite.
     The fish was several derivations of freshness beyond standard sushi, it almost seemed a different substance. We mused over the economics of preparing dinner for eight customers and wondered how this place gets fish so much fresher than anywhere else.
     “It must be a separate supply chain,” I speculated, imagining some hardy Japanese fisherman hooking slabs of bluefin tuna off a pier in Yaezu, packing them in ice and jumping on a plane to Chicago, sitting stolidly in his green rubber boots and orange slicker, his insulated treasure perched on his lap.

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  1. My idea of herring are the $5.99 jars at Costco.

  2. Today's EGD must be in a foreign language. Hard to relate to in any way. I guess Restaurant Week means something different to everyone. I'll grab my wallet all right...

  3. I guess a great storyteller can make any endeavor interesting. My idea of fine dining is an excursion to Huck Finn's, where I inspect the specials looking to save 75 cents or a dollar on a mundane meal, but Neil's lively description of his forays into the expensive world of haute cuisine shakes my soul, even if it fails to loosen the iron grip that the specter of the poor house has on my wallet.


    1. I love Huck Finn's. Takes the sting out of going to Midway.

  4. I think I might worry about encouraging extravagant dining tastes in the kids, but Neil's progeny seem well on their way to being able to afford some high end living. And they probably have enough sense to not overdo it. The concluding comment about wasting time and money going to a Bears game is apt.


  5. The term is French for "fixed price" isn't "prix fixe" a menu in which the entire meal is offered at a single fixed price? I've only gone to our Restaurant Week a couple of times, so maybe I'm just another one of those hix from the stix who's confused about prix fixe.

    I'm more of a White Castle guy. Took my wife there for Valentine's Day, some years back. They had it all spiffed-up and you needed a reservation. Sadly, all the White Castles in northeast Ohio were closed about five years ago. Now the closest fresh sliders are down in Columbus. The frozen ones just aren't the same.

    Whatever the antonym of a "foodie" is, I'm it, and have been since I was a little kid. Unpretentious, prefer low-end dives, and readily chow down on almost anything put in front of me.


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