two more newbies

Grahamwich wasn’t the only new restaurant Boyfriend and I tried on last weekend’s trip to Chicago. We returned to Mercadito and The Gage for two winning dinners, but every lunch and brunch was an entirely new venture, and a successful one to boot.

We had planned on a sushi place slightly outside our geographic comfort zone for Saturday lunch. Then it was Saturday, it was eleven o’clock in the morning, and we were just beginning to stir. Hungrily. A quick poke around Yelp pointed us to Friends Sushi, right off Michigan Avenue and only five blocks from the Museum of Contemporary Art. Ding, ding, ding! Outside was bitingly cold, with a fierce wind roaring up the avenues, and when we tumbled into Friends — frozen fingers, runny noses and all! — it felt like the warmest place in the world. It felt like a warm bath. I am not joking. I can tell that, if I lived in Chicago, I would while away whole afternoons here: the heat, the ying-yang shaped tables and plates, the vaguely purple walls, it’s all very soothing.

We started with some nectar-of-the-gods miso soup and sinus-clearing pork shumai infused with wasabi. Then we split three fabulous rolls. The Crispy-Creamy, which is (and I copy directly from the website) shrimp tempura, avocado, asparagus, scallions, cream cheese, wasabi tobiko, spicy sauce topped with parmesan cheese, tempura crumb, creamy wasabi sauce, and unagi sauce. I know it sounds like TOO MUCH, like PICK A THEME AND STICK WITH IT, but it wasn’t. It all married perfectly in crispy-creamy mouthful. Then the Big Friends roll, because I am incapable of omitting eel from a sushi experience, which includes soft shell crab tempura, spicy scallop, asian pear, avocado, masago, topped with unagi, shrimp, unagi glaze, and spicy mayo. Asian pear! I know! It gave the whole roll a wonderful fresh crispness. Finally we had the deceptively named Fire Wing, about half as spicy as the name implies, with fresh salmon, avocado, asparagus, masago, scallions, and spicy sauce, with a layer of tuna and white tuna on top. I have no idea how their outlandish-sounding concoctions manage to amount to much more than their elaborate and many parts; it’s just the magic of a clever sushi chef. (And Chicagoans, take note: they deliver!)

The other new place was Yolk, a locally famous brunch spot that was nearly overrun with Bears fans last Sunday. We waited a perfectly reasonable 20 minutes to be seated, and then began the terrible task of sifting through the dozens of menu items, including fritatas, skillets, omelets, scramblers, benedicts and their ilk, pancakes, crepes, french toasts, and every imaginable combination of egg/meat/potato. Here is the old adage about the 21st century made abundantly clear: we are afraid to chose, because each choice necessarily shuts another door. I was tempted by their veggie skillet, I truly was, even though I was going to negate its, um, “health benefits” and order a side of bacon AND PANCAKES, but then I saw their Tour de France French Toast.

Three specialty breads, dipped in an egg-and-cream batter, grilled, and topped with fresh fruit. And syrup. There wasa sweet orange bread with strawberries, a banana nut with bananas, and the best, a lemon-poppyseed with blueberries. My mouth waters just thinking about it. These weren’t true french toasts, with that classic exterior crunch and gooey center, but they were wonderful all the same. A true case of dessert for breakfast, but I happen to think vacation warrants such excesses. And I want to go back immediately.

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