Naha - Restaurant Week

February 27 2009 - 7:36 PM

Browsing the Restaurant Week options, the menu for Naha caught my eye for being interesting and well-planned, rather than a cleverly disguised effort to offload the restaurant's highest profit margin courses. House salad and pasta? No thanks. Plus, any restaurant that makes efforts to incorporate local, seasonal ingredients is worth a second look in my mind. Executive chef Carrie Nahabedian has created a regionally-sourced menu with Mediterranean and Californian influences and the results are impressive.

For the week, Naha is offering a prix-fixe dinner menu that includes everything from roasted sunchokes to wild boar bacon. My first thought was that everything listed sounded fantastic. My second thought was to wonder why there was such strong emphasis on using quotation marks on the menu. Is it necessary to mark locations with quotes, as in "Great Lakes"? Is it or is it not from the Great Lakes? Even more jarring are the quotation marks around adjectives, like "melted" sunchokes or "coddled" organic farm egg. Yes, I understand that the leeks have not literally melted, but there is no need to pedantically point this out. Stylistic distractions aside, I managed to make up my mind, and decided to order the "coddled" farm egg and prosciutto salad, roast quail and pork belly, and pear galette for dessert.

In an effort to clear out wine cellar inventory, Naha is offering several bottles in $25, 50 and 75 categories. After consulting with the server, we went with a 2006 Louis Metaireau Muscadet ("Grand Mouton"). This was my first Muscadet, and it was described to me as having similar character to a Sauvignon Blanc. The wine was bright with lots of citrus notes, quite enjoyable though it probably would have paired better with a seafood dish than what I'd ordered.

Naha's interior reflects its contemporary vibe, with clean lines and floor-to-ceiling glass providing views of the busy street outside. The noise level was moderately loud, but felt lively rather than intrusive. Their bar was also well-placed, in a separate but open room from the dining room, so that energy from the bar flowed into the rest of the restaurant, and vice versa. Too often it seems like bars are hastily planted in one end of the room and doomed to under-utilization. On this night, a swarm of people were constantly crowding the host podium, but the bar and lounge area provided a comfortable venue while waiting.

Bread and butter arrived, which were good but otherwise unremarkable. Soon afterward, my frisée and radish salad arrived topped with a quail egg done over easy, with proscuitto wrapped around its circumference. At its heart, this was simply no more than ham and eggs, but the flavors were intensified into a near consommé. I was also eager to try the La Quercia prosciutto Americano after its recent write-up in the NYT; with a delicate, melt-in-your-mouth texture, I was not disappointed.

The entrees arrived and I began to tackle my roasted quail. It was well-seasoned and the additional slice of pork belly provided some rich, fatty variety. Fingerling potatoes, Swiss chard and onions rounded out the dish for a full complement of winter flavors. I also tried a portion of the Great Lakes whitefish, and this was perfectly flaky and vibrant as well. The pear galette was a dense slice of buttery cake, topped with tamarind chutney and slivers of pear. A dollop of crème fraîche and brown sugar tuile accompanied on the side. Finally, a tray of excellent petit fours was delivered, featuring huckleberry and passion fruit. These were refreshingly not cloying and we eagerly finished the tray.

Service was friendly though somewhat inattentive. Then again, what else can you expect during Restaurant Week? The runner mistakenly delivered one dessert rather than two, and my place setting was missing a napkin, but these were quickly rectified when we pointed the errors. Overall, our server was warm and accessible, and returning on a less harried night would probably result in more personalized attention.

500 N. Clark (Clark and Illinois)
(312) 321-6242