116 W. Hubbard St. 312-464-0466
!!! (out of 4)
Off to a good start
Watch out, Melman brothers. Your Hubbard Street spots, Hub 51 and Paris Club, definitely bring the crowds, but the next block over—100 West—might be ready to give you a run for your money. Just opened right next to popular Epic and Hubbard Inn is Slurping Turtle, a Japanese tapas and noodle bar from chef Takashi Yagihashi of the award-winning Takashi in Bucktown. Even considering the three spots in the works across the street—modern Chinese restaurant Red Violet, a restaurant from Social Twenty-Five owner Roman Sanchez and a bar from the guys behind Bangers & Lace—it looks like Slurping Turtle will still have the most star power on this bustling block. Here's how I suggest you proceed.
First, take a seat.
Chances are you'll be seated at the extra-long communal table that runs down the center of the dining room as I was, along with suited businessmen speaking Japanese over bento boxes during lunch or excited foodie couples and schmoozy restaurant industry folks for dinner. Groups of three or four might snag a spacious booth,and the small bar facing the open kitchen is best for solo diners. There's also a glassed-in balcony space with five booths—called "the fort," according to our server—where you might end up if you're really lucky (or if you're Grant Achatz and friends, if my eyes served me right). But with how busy the restaurant was on its Monday opening, you'll probably be happy to have whatever seat you're given.
Then go in for the grill.
Bites from the bincho charcoal-fueled robata grill such as tender eel and gently charred skirt steak, were worth the wait. Regulars at Takashi in Bucktown will recognize some dishes from the menu's sashimi and hot tapas sections as carryovers, such as the ceviche, duck-fat fried chicken, gyoza and pork belly snack, plus the crispy phyllo-dough wrapped "bad hair day" shrimp that was on the restaurant's opening menu four years ago. The octopus and baby cucumber salad was crisp, fresh and properly vinegary, but once was enough for the lobster corndog. (Doesn't Graham Elliot have that patented by now?)
Use your noodle.
If you didn't know already that Yagihashi is known for his noodles, the copies of his cookbook "Noodles by Takashi" above the bar will be your first clue. The gigantic bowls on nearly every table should be your second. Indulge in the same richly flavored shoyu ramen served at Sunday noodle service at Takashi, or try new options such as the tan tan men, whole-wheat egg noodles with spicy miso broth and homemade sausage.
Be patient, please.
Food runners were having trouble getting dishes to their rightful owners at the communal table, and we watched another diner receive their appetizer, noodles and bill in the time we were still waiting for dessert. I don't doubt that pacing will improve as the staff becomes more practiced or the opening crush lets up, whichever comes first.
Brace for cuteness.
Cartoon logos can be cheesy, but I'm powerless in the presence of Tabo the turtle, created by local artist Kate O'Leary. You'll find this half-shelled cutie on the restaurant's façade and the drink menu, helping differentiate between types of sake. For the sparkling section, he's taking a bubble bath, for the bold/sophisticated section, he's donning a smoking jacket a la
Save room for dessert.
"You could share it, but I wouldn't want to," said my server of the cream puffs. I chose coconut (there's also green tea and vanilla) and liked the shell's soft bottom and crispy caramelized top, but craved a more coconutty flavor in the creamy filling. Fans of French macarons will love fun flavors such as yuzu, caramel-soy, raspberry-wasabi and oba (a basil-like Japanese herb also called green shiso), which all proved delicious.
Bottom line: Clearly, I'm not the only one who's psyched to have another downtown spot to snag Yagihashi's noodles without having to wait until Sundays at Takashi (or brave tourist mayhem en route to the Noodles by Takashi stand inside Macy's).