Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ramen at Chuko

When I went to Chuko in Prospect Heights, I was really in need for some good ramen. The setting was all right: I was going with good friends, the weather was cold and dreary with a weird snow mist thing going on, and I had just finished with a long, loonnnngg day of work.

Thank goodness Chuko lived up to the hype, is all I can say.

First of all, I rarely find that the service at restaurants influences my dining experience that much, but our server was so enthusiastic and helpful, that it truly enhanced my whole meal. She was very knowledgeable about all the dishes, and was so eager to make recommendations and express her enthusiasm about the food, that I was excited before I even began eating! So I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to her, since I always respect when a server stands so strongly behind the establishment they work for and the food it serves.

Thanks to helpful Yelpers, I started off my meal with the fried brussel sprouts. Oh man, were these addictive! A heaping pile of quick-fried brussel sprouts, they were crispy on the edges and tender to the bite. The sprouts were doused with fish sauce and showered with chopped peanuts and chilies, rendering them tangy and salty and hot all at once.

Next came the main event. After much deliberation, I went with the white miso ramen with turnip pieces, a soft-boiled egg (although you have the option of hard-boiled), and pork slices (chicken is also an option). And of course, oodles of noodles.

The broth was mild but very well-balanced in flavor, and adding a heap of their homemade hot garlic oil (literally boiling scallion oil poured over garlic slices. It's amazing and addictive) added depth through its smokiness and, of course, garlic umami. Breaking open the egg and swirling the yolk brought a rich creaminess to the ramen.

And the noodles? They did exactly what they were supposed to: they had the perfect amount of bite, and gave me a great excuse to slurp my way through the dish. The pork slices were a welcome salty treat, and added a chewy yet tender, and intensely flavorful element to the velvety ramen. And the turnips were the most surprising ingredient of all! I was skeptical of turnips in my ramen, but the pieces were super tender and sweet. I think they were actually my favorite part of the dish.

Overall, Chuko not only provided the ultimate in comfort foods, but it was also such a learning experience for me, since up until now my only venture with ramen has been of the packaged, dehydrated variety. I had no idea that ramen could be made up of so many flavors and textures, all harmoniously converging into one bowl of heaven. Kudos to Chuko for making one hell of a ramen. My only other parting word is this: mmmm....

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