High-powered celebrity chefs and restaurateurs all over the country are reaching out to new clientele with more casual concepts, and Chicago-area chefs are no exception.
From Haute French to Japanese Comfort Food
Takashi Yagahashi made his name here in fine dining with a long stint at the late, lamented Ambria in Lincoln Park, left to open other temples of cuisine in Detroit and Las Vegas, and returned to Wicker Park with the eponymous Takashi. Now, he turns to the comfort foods of his Japanese childhood with Slurping Turtle, a sunny, fun restaurant full of good vibes and camaraderie.
Whether you’re seated at one of the long communal tables that run the length of the restaurant or one of the cozy booths in the front window (or lining the wall), you will want to join the party. They don’t take reservations, so I recommend coming at lunch when the wait is shorter. The dinner menu has a few more items, but happily, the prices are the same – another thing to appreciate about Slurping Turtle.
Exciting Textures and Flavors
You’ll want to start with a few of the appetizers, perfect for sharing. We loved the Seared Big Eye Tuna ($12), ruby red slices of goodness with avocado, black sesame seeds and sweet onion dressing. Gorgeous! Don’t shy away from the Homemade Silky Tofu ($7), which has a velvety soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture, dotted with bonito flakes, fresh ginger, and “umami soy.”
If you’ve ever had a tastier tidbit than the Duck Fat Fried Chicken ($7), I’d like to hear about it. Perfectly crispy, yet tender within, it’s addictive. Actually, they do quite well by the fryer. The Crispy Curry Croquettes ($7) will please any vegetarian, and most meat eaters. Both come with a creamy, spicy dipping sauce and an Asian coleslaw.
Introducing the Bincho Grill
The bincho grill is a unique element at the restaurant, and it’s a Japanese technique of grilling meats, fish and veggies on skewers over high heat (but smokeless) charcoal that seals in the juices and natural flavors. Worth a try, and so reasonably priced that you could get a platter with 4 or 5 different tastes from shrimp to kabocha squash or chicken gizzards.
To Share or Not to Share?
Now we get to the heart of the matter: big bowls of soup meant for slurping. We tried the Tonkotu ($13), tender egg noodles, braised pork shoulder and bok choy in a “silky” pork broth. Sounds like hyperbole, but wow, was that broth smooth and filled with flavor.
We also enjoyed the Slurping Noodle ($13), rice noodles and loads of fish tidbits: black tiger shrimp, fish “balls” (more like little dumplings) and thin slices of traditional fish cake, all simmered in a soy broth. Next time I’m not leaving until I try the Tan Tan Men ($14), with whole wheat egg noodles, ground pork and spicy homemade sausage.
The soups are easy to share, which lets you taste more. But don’t be ashamed if you want to keep it all to yourself. Perfectly understandable.
Donburi, the traditional rice bowl, is another way to go, and there are many options. We opted for the Kigiyaki ($12), steamed rice topped with caramel soy-grilled chicken, pickled ginger, nori, and green onions. It was yummy.
Keep Your Fork Away From My Creampuff!
Desserts aren’t the strongest part of the menu, although I would be lying if I didn’t confess to inhaling an enormous Coconut Custard Cream Puff ($3). Macarons (3 for $5) with Asian-inspired fillings like yuzu and raspberry-wasabi were the perfect after-meal bite. You could also try the intriguing An Mitsu ($5), a Japanese sundae of vanilla ice cream topped with chilled red beans, lychee and kiwi on a bed of agar agar jello cubes.
Takashi has said that the turtle is the Japanese symbol for longevity, and I can definitely foresee that Slurping Turtle will be sticking around.
4 out of 5 Stars
116 W. Hubbard St.