Friday, August 24, 2012


Chicago has a wealth of restaurants of all different varieties.  Many of the same types are located together so if you are interested in a certain style but aren't really sure about what restaurant to go to, you can go to a specific neighborhood.  There are exceptions of course, but if you know what you want but aren't really sure about restaurants you can go to a neighborhood.  For instance, if you want Chinese, go to Chinatown.  There are a lot of Korean, Vietnamese, and Thai restaurants in Uptown around Argyle Street.  There are a lot of Indian restaurants in Rogers Park on Devon Ave.  Mexican?  While there are taquerias throughout the city, if you want good Mexican, go to Pilsen or Little Village.  Where do you go though, if you're interested in Hawaiian?  There is actually a restaurant in Chicago that embraces a Hawaiian aesthetic in it's food (although it does avoid the illusion of being in a tropical paradise).  Sola is this restaurant.  Located in Northcenter on Lincoln Avenue, Sola is inspired by the warmth and sense of community of the Hawaiian Islands while also using local ingredients and embracing sustainability (also a Hawaiian ideal).  While it is a pretty big restaurant and the address is on Lincoln Avenue, it's actually a little hard to find.  It is on the corner of Byron Avenue and the entrance is actually on Byron.  When I came to the corner, I saw a bank on the corner where it was supposed to be located and ended up passing the corner twice before I noticed the restaurant on the side street.  There was a very nice and big patio outside but as it looked like it was going to rain, I decided to eat inside.  There was a big divider wall just inside behind which, was the Host's Station.  The space was divided into two large dining rooms and the entire space seemed to be done in browns, yellow, and orange.  With a banquette along one wall where I sat and round tables with white tablecloths in the rest of the room.  There was a long bar on the wall opposite the banquette seating.  The lighting consisted of several hanging lights in cylindrical light covers.  The light was slightly dim but it wasn't dark as has been the case in other restaurants.  I looked at the menu and while I saw several things that looked really good, but there were a few things that stood out and I was quickly able to make a decision.  As I was waiting, I was brought an Amuse Bouche consisting of Smoked Salmon, Mizuna, Pineapple, Tobiko, and Soy.  It was surprising and really good.  I wouldn't have expected smoked salmon and pineapple to work together and while both tastes were prominent, they did work together well.  The tobiko (flying fish roe) was very subtle as there were only a couple used but they did contribute to the taste.  The mizuna provided more texture than taste.

I really liked my appetizer but I did forget to take a picture of it.  It was grilled baby octopus and lemon topped with arugula.  I think there were some other things in the dish but I don't have a picture and it has since come off the menu.  I do specifically remember the greens because the plate was essentially covered when it came over.  There were a few octopus tentacles sticking out underneath but you had to look.  After digging in, I found that there were a lot of octopi which had a nice char and a good texture and obviously, a good flavor.

While there were several entrees that looked good, my choice was obvious, I chose the duck which was served with Lemongrass Risotto, Baby Bok Choy, Curry Syrup, and Coconut Butter.  This was amazing.  The duck was cooked medium rare and was very tender and juicy.  The risotto was very creamy and had a nice flavor with the lemongrass.  The bok choy was crisp and slightly lemony and the curry and cocunut provided additional flavorrs that complemented everything well.

While I thought everything was good so far, I had not had the dessert.  The dessert was actually the highlight of the meal.  I had the Five Spice Salted Caramel Creme Brulee which was served with Ginger Cookies.  While every element of this sounds good on paper, it was just as good as a whole.  The creme brulee had a nice crust to it that did require some cracking to get into.  The custard had a nice buttery sweet and salty flavor and the five spice, a combination of star anise, cinnamon, fennel, cloves, and Sichuan pepper, added a spiciness that matched well with both the sweetness of the custard and the ginger cookies.  I really like a well made creme brulee but this was one step beyond.

I really enjoyed my dinner here.  The place looked nice the waitstaff was friendly and helpful and as I have stated, the food was great.  I will really enjoy returning here.  They also do a weekend brunch that looks good, I may have to try this as well.       

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