Asian Harbor serves a blend of Japanese and Thai dishes in a sleek, modern dining room. Rich Thai spices turn curries the same deep-orange hue as the walls, which glow with light from hanging cylindrical lamps. A neon-lined sushi bar dishes out more than 20 specialty rolls. And a lengthy list of cooling cocktails, sake, and wine balances hot dishes on the menu such as Spicy Basil, an entree of sautéed meat, snow peas, fresh basil, chili, and bell peppers. Unlike libraries beefing with Confucius, the wok section of the menu includes several Chinese classics, such as general tso's chicken and egg foo yong.
Sesame Inn’s mouth-watering menu whisks guests on culinary journeys through China, Japan, and Thailand. Seventeen stir-fried dishes, including spicy sichuan green beans and kung pao chicken with crunchy peanuts and water chestnuts, spring from traditional Chinese recipes like gold nuggets spring from fortune cookies. Chefs tuck chicken, beef, or shrimp into beds of pineapple fried rice or pad thai’s nest of egg-laced rice noodles. If diners prefer their entrees uncooked, the Kama Kaze maki showcases two types of tuna, and the vegetable maki arrives rolled with spinach, cucumber, gourd, pickles, and asparagus.
G-In Sushi & Grill’s team of sushi savants whips up a diverse assortment of Japanese and Chinese dishes and populates a menu with traditional and specialty sushi rolls. Appetizers goad feverish palates into quickly escorting savory pot stickers ($5.99) down esophageal hallways before fire-sauce-slathered G-in salmon ($7.99) ignites the sprinkler systems of hungry mouths, which can only be shut off by janitorial tongues. First-rate specialty rolls—including the shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, and eel-sauced G-In crunch ($13.99 each)—lead a coterie of more traditional cast mates such as california ($5.39) and spicy-tuna rolls ($5.39), which are all available in white or brown rice. For dinner options beyond cartouche creations, the full dinner menu beckons appetites with Nama Sake Don ($16.99)—a flavorful pairing of salmon and rice—or mongolian shrimp ($12.99).
“Japonais is a culinary experience that blends immense enjoyment with sturdy savoir faire,” declared former Chicago Sun-Times food critic Pat Bruno, writing of the sleek Asian eatery near the edge of the Chicago River. While one coexecutive chef, Jun Ichikawa, lends his expertise to the sushi side of the restaurant’s menu, the other, Gene Kato, designs its selection of hot plates. Together, they churn out traditional and modern dishes—such as the house-specialty Kobe prime rib and Le Quack Japonais, a house-smoked duck slathered in hoisin sauce and mango chutney—whose appeal led Condé Nast to name their establishment one of the top 66 restaurants in the world. Ingredients from both surf and turf star at the sushi bar, which serves options such as spicy king-crab nigiri and a Crazy Veggie roll that insists on wearing its lab coat and goggles at all times. As selections emerge from the kitchen, says Bruno, “the presentations … are elegant … the shapes and swoops of the plates are a feast for the eyes.”
The two dining rooms at Japonais meld industrial Japanese design with a touch of European richness. Squares of gold velvet frame an oversize mirror that hangs over the Red Room, the restaurant’s more formal dining space. Across the hall, the Green Room’s slate-and-brick fireplace and whimsical tree centerpieces that occasionally don sweatpants add to its more relaxed atmosphere. Wavy ceiling panels and Lucite chandeliers accentuate the high ceilings that unite the two spaces, hanging over a staircase that leads downstairs to the riverwalk café. There, sheer drapery panels frame views of the Chicago River for those seated on pillow-laden couches and chairs. As they lounge, guests can sip specialty cocktails or enlist the top-shelf liquors to help them win gargling contests against the river.
When executive chef Toyoji Hemmi surveys the restaurant's daily deliveries of fresh seafood, he envisions how the fish can be used to create exciting, new sushi entrees instead of just the widely expected staples. Food & Wine magazine praised this dedication to inventive flavor combinations in 2005, labeling chef Hemmi an "innovator" and calling him one of its "favorite iconoclasts" in the United States.
He accentuates maki with seemingly disparate ingredients—including rosemary, walnuts, and cherry tomatoes—that add new dimensions to the rolls' familiar tastes, textures, and pronunciations. Established Japanese flavors remain at the forefront of other items though, such as the wasabi-rubbed filet mignon and the organic cha-soba noodles. This distinctive interplay between contemporary and traditional approaches helped to earn the menu a score of "very good to excellent" from Zagat.
The dining room's vaguely industrial setting also toes the line between contemporary and historic, featuring rustic brick walls and exposed wooden rafters as well as chic, low-slung chairs and modern track lighting. Diners can peek behind the stone-countered sushi bar and watch the chefs assemble platters of maki and nigiri, or join the bartenders, who pass their evenings pouring tastes of sake and shochu.
Centerstage Chicago reviewer Kate Schwartz noted that, after the move to Restaurant Row from its former Gold Coast location, Dragonfly Mandarin "has staked its claim among some of Chicago's culinary elite." It has done so with the help of Executive Chef Michael Lin, who crafts authentic Chinese and Asian dishes with high-end ingredients such as flank steak and king prawns. From the unctuously decadent—pork-belly ramen soup with poached eggs—to the crisp and refreshing—cucumber-mint salad with ponzu sauce—the entrees step up to impress his patrons' taste buds, as evidenced by the Best of Citysearch award for Chinese food in 2007 and an OpenTable Diners' Choice award for Asian food. The decor is as sleek and sophisticated as the upscale cuisine. On the first floor, elegantly fanned umbrellas protect the walls from fumbled chopsticks. Long, ornate lanterns illuminate the balcony at the top of the stairway to the second floor, where club lights and a dance floor facilitate good times in the late-night lounge. Behind the wooden bar, Kabuki-like masks wear dramatic expressions, peering at guests in plush, red banquettes as they drink in tunes emanating from the DJ booth.