Seoul Taco

***** (5 stars)

If there’s any cheaper way to have a tasty meal in River North, I haven’t found it.

The Tacos make up in spiciness what they lack in size. The tortillas are cooked to order, so everything is hot and fresh.

The other entrees are larger, but I thought the taco was just right. And I added (for just two bucks) the kimchi fried rice, which is almost a meal in itself.  

For less than $5 I left stuffed.

Seoul Taco
738 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 265-1607
http://www.yelp.com/biz/seoul-taco-chicago-2

Friends Sushi

**** (4 stars)

This stylish sushi restaurant offers some very inventive rolls and attentive service.

We started with the salmon carpaccio: thin slices of salmon served over greens in a soy dressing. It was very good, although I thought the dressing could have used a touch more rice wine vinegar for sweetness.

Then we shared three rolls. Each was unique, and they went together well.

“Sweet & Spicy” combined eel, cucumber, and salmon, but the piquant kick of the dollop of red sauce was what made it interesting.

In the “Jimmai” the hamachi, cilantro and seabass were really complemented by the smokiness of the grilled asparagus.

Our favorite roll was the very unusual “Ticky Tacky” where the predominant flavors came not from the king crab or tender thin octopus topping, but rather the mint leaf and wasabi mayo. That one packed quite a delicious kick.

There are many additional specialty rolls on the menu that we’ll need to check out next time.

Friends Sushi
710 N Rush St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 787-8998
http://www.yelp.com/biz/friends-sushi-chicago

Noodles & Company

**** (4 stars)

This is a very well run outlet, with friendly staff and a nice seating area with a roll-up glass door that lets in a bit of the outdoors.

The menu offers a good variety of different noodle-based cuisines, plus salads and soups. The noodle dishes have the same issue as at Pei Wei where the calorie counts look attractive until you realize there are two servings in each bowl. However Noodles and Company has come up with a great solution. Their “Buff” bowls leave out the noodles, and substitute spinach, while doubling the other ingredients.

I tried the Buff version of the Japanese Pan Noodles. It seemed funny to remove the Japanese Pan part from the dish, but it more than halved the calories, to just 320 in the whole bowl. And it was extremely tasty. I feel like I got all the flavor, without the carbs. And since the veggies (other than the spinach and cilantro) were hot, it didn’t seem like a salad.

As with the other bowls, you can get a side dish. I had a Caesar salad (side salad with a salad, ha!) and it was also tasty, and added only another 90 calories.

They also have the Coke Freestyle machines that can make a hundred or so different combos, including many with no calories.

In all, quite a satisfying low-cal lunch.

Noodles & Company
7822 W Sand Lake Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 354-1301
http://www.yelp.com/biz/noodles-and-company-orlando-3

Yoshi Sushi Bar

*** (3 stars)

This is a perfectly fine neighborhood sushi bar. Fish quality is good, and the preparations are professional.

All of the fish selections for the sashimi lunch were fresh tasting and it was a nice assortment. There is a large assortment of rolls available as choices on the sushi lunch.

The Tuna Kobachi was a fairly small serving, and the very thinly sliced avocado was a bit hard to deal with, but the flavors were good.

Service was very friendly and welcoming.

Yoshi Sushi Bar
11127 W. Colonial Dr
Ocoee, FL 34761
(407) 347-0521
http://www.yelp.com/biz/yoshi-sushi-bar-ocoee

Momofuku Ko

***** (5 stars)

What a phenomenal experience. We loved the ambiance of this place, which is both romantic and trendy, vibrant yet conducive to conversation, epicurean yet accessible.

Not every course was a hit, but there were certainly plenty of home runs. But the friendliness of the wait staff, the chefs, and especially the sommelier, Chase, Sinzer, are what really made this a remarkable evening.

I suspect most people her opt for the wine pairings, which we often do, too, but if so they are missing a terrific wine list, with exclusively great producers, and some very reasonable prices.

Truly a special dining experience, and one I look forward to repeating.

Momofuku Ko
8 Extra Pl
New York, NY 10003
(212) 203-8095
http://www.yelp.com/biz/momofuku-ko-new-york-3

Tako Cheena

***** (5 stars)

This tiny taco palace is soon moving four doors north to larger quarters, but for now competition for the few tables can be challenging. Fortunately, although it is a table-service restaurant, it also looks like and operates as a counter service place, and the food is just as good when you get it to go.

I tried two very different specials. The shredded pork taco was moist and tasty, with just the right spice level to the pork. But the curry beet arepa was an event. I’m not a huge beet fan, but it doesn’t matter; the delicate combination of flavors, and the creamy curry sauce (which tasted like it had just a touch of mayo) was out of this world. And the maize shell was perfectly crusted. I would definitely have this again. And again.

Service was friendly. Food preparation takes a bit longer than you’d expect for a counter service place, but that’s probably because of the cooking time of the arepa batter, and it was definitely worth it.

Tako Cheena
932 Mills Ave
Orlando, FL 32803
(321) 236-7457
http://www.yelp.com/biz/tako-cheena-orlando

Mamak Asian Street Food

**** (4 stars)

This bright, trendy space is a great place to enjoy Asian street food. Much like the restaurant that pioneered this cuisine in Orland (Hawkers, which is just around the corner and up the street), Mamak offers a menu of pan-Asian dishes arranged in columns including noodle dishes, rice dishes, tapas and soups.

We started with some edamame (a gift for checking in on Yelp). It was perfectly heated and salted.

Our first main dish was the Mamak Roti Canai, which many Yelpers justifiably raved over. The curry was the perfect spiciness, and the rotis were puffy and flakey.

The Roast Duck was less successful, fatty, somewhat tough, and it had that jagged “carved with a Korean chain saw” aspect.

Nasi Goreng Kari was a good rice dish, but it was completely overshadowed by the spectacular Indian Mee Goreng, one of the greatest noodle dishes I’ve ever tasted. It was like Pad Thai on steroids. Each bite of this dish produced layers of complex flavors: first the protein (shrimp and tofu), then the scallions and bean sprouts, then the wonderful wok-fried noodles in a sweet chili sauce, and finally the crushed peanuts and tart lime. I could eat this dish all day!

An extensive beer list offers something to match any dish on the menu, and the wines by the bottle come in a fair variety, too, better than Hawkers.

Service was friendly and attentive. The room is large, light and airy, but has no acoustic treatment whatsoever, so it can be quite loud. As a result the most pleasant dining might be during the hours between lunch and dinner.

Mamak Asian Street Food
1231 E Colonial Dr
Orlando, FL 32803
(407) 270-4688
http://www.yelp.com/biz/mamak-asian-street-food-orlando-2

Niu Japanese Fusion Lounge

**** (4 stars)

This is a beautiful, large, expensive looking space, so it’s not surprising that prices are pretty high. I loved the way each item was served a bit more nicely than in the other sushi  places in town: miso soup was in a large, stylish bowl, and was a generous serving. The salad that came with lunch was an elaborate collection of mixed greens plus a couple of slices of peppers served with a much more delicate dressing than the normal ginger glop.

But when the sushi lunch set arrived, it looked pretty stingy: just four pieces of nigiri, and four coins of California roll. Not much for $14.

Fortunately I’d ordered another roll, the Mellow Yellow, and it was huge, with ten large slices for its reasonable $7 price.

I loved the tea service, with Genmai tea (the kind with the puffed rice) in a glass pot, served with a tiny glass cup and saucer.

Service was friendly, although if the place had more than a half dozen customers I’m not sure how the relatively slow sushi prep would have kept up.

Niu Japanese Fusion Lounge
332 E Illinois St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 527-2888
http://www.yelp.com/biz/niu-japanese-fusion-lounge-chicago

Morimoto Asia

*** (3 stars)

Morimoto occupies a spectacular space within Disney Springs: the old three-story Mannequins building. They’ve taken full advantage of the height, with two floors of dining, and beautiful long lighting fixtures making the space feel like a scene out of Spirited Away.

Unfortunately, as with most restaurants on theme park properties, the food and service don’t measure up to the decorating.

If you’re expecting the food experience you’d get at another Morimoto, you will be disappointed. Here, only the name has been licensed, and the majority of the food is actually Chinese rather than Japanese,

There is a sushi bar upstairs, and sushi is available throughout the restaurant, but it’s expensive and nothing special. They do have a few fish not found at every neighborhood sushi place, including Fluke, Red Snapper, and Yellowtail, although they were out of some selections when we visited. Sashimi pricing was a problem though, with the serving sizes bordering on microscopic. I calculated that the one inch long paper thin slices of Fluke and Red Snapper are going for about $100 a pound. That’s just ridiculous.

Other dishes we tried included:

The five spice chicken wings were very oily inside, and there was no sign of five spices, although the garlic bits and jalapeño that topped them were tasty.

Spare ribs were delicious, very meaty and fall-off-the-bone tender, with a sweet, spicy coating.

Ikura sashimi was very good, served in a hollowed out lime with a shiso leaf.

Hamachi tartare was a small portion literally swimming in a soy broth. Any attempt to pick up some of the tartare, even with the provided miniature spoons resulted in the tartare disintegrating into the broth.

Spicy salmon roll seemed straight out of a sushi bar at central casting. Nothing remarkable here, move on.

Thai fried rice was delicious, with anise leaves, lemon grass and sprouts. This was the best dish we had.

Fried bronzino was the traditional whole fish, carefully deboned and covered in sweet and sour sauces. The fish was excellent as long as you could avoid too much of the sauce. This is a classic presentation, well done.

Our server was well-intentioned, but clearly needed more training and more practice. With about a hundred employees buzzing around a new restaurant, that’s not too surprising. I’m sure things will shake themselves out.

In short, if you’re looking for an Iron Chef experience, forget it. If you’re looking for PF Chang on steroids at twice the price but in a gorgeous building, this is a spectacular choice.

Morimoto Asia
1600 E Buena Vista Dr
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 939-6686
http://www.yelp.com/biz/morimoto-asia-lake-buena-vista

Big Bowl

**** (4 stars)

It’s easy to classify Big Bowl as another fast casual chain, but that really understates how nice this location is, with its elaborate and beautiful interior design and hands-on management and staff.

The concept is a mix of Chinese, Thai and Mongolian barbecue, so there’s likely to be something for most people. I enjoyed the very fresh tasting spring rolls, which were cut up like a sushi roll rather than served as a log; great idea.

Pad Thai was tasty, heavy on the lime and cilantro. I had the shrimp version, but the chicken version might be a bit more traditional.

There’s a reasonable list of alcoholic beverages that match the food. House-made ginger ale is a good non-alcoholic choice.

Service was fast and friendly. The manager visited and even comped me a cucumber amuse bouche as a first time visitor.

Big Bowl
60 E Ohio St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 951-1888
http://www.yelp.com/biz/big-bowl-chicago