Monday, January 18, 2010

The South Side Again? Why Not

I went out to Elmhurst during the afternoon to finish up everything with my new car.  I was preparing to go to the wine bar (as is tradition when I go out to Elmhurst) when my mom called me and asked if I wanted to go to early dinner with them around 5:30.  She managed to refrain from using the term "early bird special," so I agreed to go with even though 5:30 sounds more like a lunch time to me.

She told me that they were going to Han 202 in Chicago.  She said it was near the stadium where the Gary, Indiana Black Sox play.  Being a northsider, I have a natural distrust of any street that has a number in it, so when she told me that it was on 31st, I began to regret my decision a little (especially in light of my vaguely terrifying trip to the south side only a week earlier).  Han 202 is located at 605 W. 31st St. and its website is  It serves Japanese food, but it is definitely of a more modern variety than any other Japanese food that I have ever had.  It is also BYOB, which is always nice.

I didn't look too much into it since I was busy watching football, so I had no idea what to expect.  We got there (after some more terror driving around on Ashland).  The place was long, narrow, and was mostly empty (due to us being there at 5:30).  I looked over the menu and was semi-shocked that they offered a 5-course menu for $20.  I thought it might be a mistake, but apparently it was not.  Gleefully, I went about selecting my five dishes.  I went with the Spicy King Crab Soup, Lemongrass Beef Salad, Seared Scallop, Duck Breast in a Sichuan Bean Sauce, and Vanilla Ice Cream with a Mango Tomato Sorbet.

The King Crab Soup came out first (as you would expect).  It was nicely flavored, but probably a little bit too spicy for most people.  Also RJ spilled his soup within about four seconds of receiving it.  Amanda, contrarily, managed not to spit anything all over the restaurant this time, so I guess she is taking strides in the right direction.

The next course was the Lemongrass Beef Salad.  I'll say it.  I hate salad.  Hate.  I fully expected this to be some salad that was over-laden with a whole bunch of random greens and doused in some gross dressing (since 99% of salads are).  I generally do not like salads, since salads are nearly always a hodgepodge of mismatched greens that are tossed in a bowl with as many other random vegetables as possible.  It seems to me that most dishes should have as few elements as possible and putting those elements together requires some thought and creativity.  The general salad conception is the antithesis of thinking.  That being said, this salad was one of the best salads I have ever had (the best was the cucumber, rhubarb, and scallop salad at Sixteen).  It was hot beef marinated in a teriyaki-like sauce ontop of a bed of lemongrass and apples.  The savory flavor of the beef went well with the sweetness and tartness of the apples and lemongrass.  The only problem I had with it was that there was too much apple and lemongrass in comparison to the amount of beef.  I only ended up eating about half of the apple, but I suppose that is not a very serious problem at all.

The next dish was the seared scallop.  I though the scallop had a beautiful crust on it and excellent seasoning.  I did not like the vinegar sauce that was served in the tiny coffee cup that accompanied the dish.  It was too strong and did not go well with the scallop.  I think I would still order it again though because the scallop itself was so good.  One thing that bother me about this dish though was that they served me 1.25 scallops.  I imagine the 0.25 is because they give you a certain weight of scallops so they needed to add a little (I ran into this problem on a much more extreme degreeonce before at Coopers Hawk).  My thought is either 1) find a bigger scallop or 2) don't put the extra little piece on.  To Han 202's credit, the extra piece did not look like it was bitten off as it did at Coopers Hawk, but the error persisted.  Not a huge deal, and maybe I'm the only one who would care about that.

My entree was Duck Breast with Sichaun Bean Sauce.  This course was the best thing that I had at this restaurant (including all the things that I nabbed from other people's plates).  The duck was beautifully cooked and remained extremely juicy in the center (I ordered it medium).  My mom even enjoyed it even though she claimed it was "undercooked poultry."  She may have taken a shot of bleach after eating it, but I think she liked it overall.  The sauce was just spicy enough to add an exciting element to the dish.  I loved this dish and would definitely order it again.

Everything about the dessert (vanilla ice cream with mango tomato sorbet) was normal to me except for the odd addition of tomato element of the sorbet, so I did not know what to expect.  It came out in a small ramekin with the vanilla ice cream on the bottom and a small scoop of sorbet on top.  Even though it was an extremely simple dessert, the greatness of it lied in its odd complexity.  Firstly, the vanilla ice cream was very smooth and intensely flavored.  Secondly, the mango tomato sorbet, when eaten by itself, tasted like eating peach juice.  Apparently, in a strange bit of arithmetic vanilla + peach juice = coconut.  I liked this dessert because it was like having three desserts in one, and each bite I took was slightly different than the one before it.

Han 202 was definitely a keeper, though the thought of going to the south side still does not sit well with me.  Perhaps I will get lucky and they will open a north side location in the not too distant future.  I can virtually guarantee that you will never find another 5-course dinner for $20 with BYOB.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

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