Restaurant Week: Naha

The top of the menu read: NAHA celebrates Restaurant Week 2010.  And it did feel as if they were glad to be participating.  Despite a strange interaction with the restaurant's hostess, I felt welcome at Naha and they seemed prepared for a restaurant week crowd.  Every table in our section ordered from the special menu excepting a couple with a sleeping infant who wolfed down a shared appetizer and ran for it.  

Jessica, my fashion design student friend and favorite shopping/gossiping partner, accompanied me to lunch.  I am sometimes uncomfortable eating in fancy settings, but I knew she would put me at ease.  I love trying new food and appreciate excellent service, but I sometimes can't get over feeling anxious and out of place in fine dining.  It is usually caused by my perception of snooty front of the house staff and pretentious customers.  Jessica shares my judgmental streak and once we turned the dining room into an episode of What Not to Wear, I was laughing.  Especially about the guy at the bar who thought he was a character in a Bret Easton Ellis novel. 

Once seated, the service was stellar and the food, interesting.  I woke up with a scratchy throat, so I inquired about hot tea.  The list was a bit intimidating, featuring many vintage options and prices similar to a wine list.  I opted for a $6 chamomile, and was delighted when the pot of tea yielded three solid cups of warm tea - not too expensive after all.  The bread service was delicious - especially the raisin bread with fennel seeds - and I was pleased with the generous portion of butter.

I started with: Cannelloni of Butternut and Acorn Squash, Caramelized Winter Root Vegetables of Homegrown Wisconsin Organic Parsnip, Celery Root and Rutabaga with Spaghetti Squash, Apple Cider and Chervil.  I love squash, and here the preparation really honored the naturally sweet flavors of the root vegetables without tipping the scales toward sickly sweet.  I only wished there was more - I actually contemplated ordering another portion to take home.

Jessica ordered the Mediterranean Fattoush “Greek Salad” of Mt. Vikos Feta, Cucumbers, Roma Tomatoes, Chickpeas, Italian Farro, Kalamata Olives and Oregano.  It was crisp and light with the olives and feta adding some salt to punch up the dish.  Then we both ordered the quail.  Usually I like to get something different from my dining partner, to explore as many flavors and options as possible, but it just sounded too good.

A Farm Plate of Roasted Quail, La Quercia Proscuitto and Confit Cockscombs with Lacinato Kale, Carolina Polenta, Glazed Shallot and Thyme. 

The quail was stuffed, and cooked nicely with crisp skin and moist, tender meat.  Though I love the earthy flavor of a small game bird, I almost always regret ordering it because it can be such a pain to eat.  When you're in casual company it doesn't seem to matter though, and I tore into it.  The polenta was loose and creamy.  The cockscombs were new to me: delicious with a dense, chewy texture similar to a lobster mushroom.  Both of our plates were emptied, leaving only a pile of tiny bird bones.

After stalking several plates floating around the dining room, we settled on dessert.  I chose a mountain of stacked items culminating in a peak of spun sugar.  The “Open-Faced” Banana Tartlette, Spiced Rum, Toasted Cashews, Vanilla Chiboust “Custard” and Salted Caramel had texture and flavor, and wore its neutral color scheme well.  Jessica's Dark Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake, “Cara Cara” Oranges and Milk Chocolate Crème was reported to be delicious, but we mutually decided not to share any of our last course.

All of these items are not on the regular lunch menu, but given the prices of similar plates, we each spent $22 for meals that would normally have been priced at approximately $43 per person.  It was a nice treat for a mid-week lunch, and I think I'll keep Naha in mind for a special dinner in the future.

The fun and savings were actually extended into Restaurant Weeks, as many restaurants chose to keep their discounted menus available through March 6.  If you missed out, take advantage of Chicago Chef Week instead, March 22 - 28, for similarly priced three-course menus at a smaller list of chef-driven restaurants.

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