NAHA is Carrie Nahabedian’s Michelin-starred restaurant in River North. The atmosphere had that white tablecloth, fine dining feel, but it wasn’t as luxurious as The Lobby, nor did it have as much personality as Sepia or Boka. The tables were very close together, and it was surprisingly loud, even without music. Given all of its accolades, I had such high expectations for NAHA, but it ended up being one of the most disappointing restaurant experiences I’d had in quite some time.
The evening did not get off to the greatest start. The server abruptly showed up with “Would you like a drink?” (No “welcome to Naha” or “good evening” or “hello, my name is ____”). I declined; he disappeared. His response regarding the veal versus the pork shank was “veal is more special,” nothing about the individual dishes.
While I do like it when restaurants offer complimentary bread service, NAHA’s did not leave a very good impression. The butter was ice cold, and the bread had a slight chill from the refrigerator. The bread was a sourdough with a nice tang but not much texture from the crust.
The soup was hot, thinner than I expected, and not nearly as creamy as I’d hoped, but the pronounced mushroom flavor was nice. The “crouton” garnish was almost cold and not quite crispy. The custard was about the size of a postage stamp, but it was lovely and tender, like a good quiche. The soup had a nice taste, but it could have used more crunch and possibly some acidity, since each bite was much the same as the last.
The bacon was thick, not really shards, and it added a richness that the already rich dish did not especially need. The parsnip chips were crisp, and the mushrooms added textural contrast, but something crunchy would have been nice. Even more than that, it really could have used something with acidity. The parsnip purée was very smooth, but it added sweetness, the same as the chips. The outer layer of the roulade was a little fatty. The dish was very rich, a little salty, and heavy. There were a lot of components, but as with the soup, each bite was basically the same – good but almost boring. Most importantly, not all of the bacon was properly rendered: half of the last piece was just overwhelmingly smoky fat. I left the rest on the plate because I couldn’t face another bite like that, which ruined an otherwise nice dish. And I like chewy bacon, but that was just slimy.
Dessert was a bit of redemption from the main course but not enough to save the meal. The blueberries were nice, although they reminded me oddly of Bath and Body Works products, and the almond flavor was good. Sugar rods added height and a little crunch, although not much in the way of flavor. The lemon rind was a chance for acidity, but it just added a little lemon flavor. The whipped cream was really light and airy, and there was a light crunch from the almonds. The cake was dense, I think on purpose, but not too dense. It was neither fluffy, nor moist, but thanks to the blueberries, it also wasn’t dry. Ultimately, it was safe but a little boring, and frankly, it reminded me of a blueberry muffin.
The anise and raisin Turkish delight had a nice texture, but the anise was a bit too strong. The chocolate didn’t taste much of scotch, but was very smooth and just melted away.
Overall, that piece of bacon in the main course should never have been on the plate. The soup was a bit one note, and I didn’t particularly care for the crouton, but I liked the custard and the depth of flavor. I enjoyed parts of the veal, but that bacon spoiled it. Dessert was tasty but not really memorable. I imagine that I just visited on an off day, but with so many other reliably fantastic restaurants in Chicago, it’s unlikely that I will be back.
An automatic $1 donation to the Greater Chicago Food Depository was added to the bill as part of the “Taste of the NFL kick hunger campaign to 86 hunger across America.” It’s hard to complain about donations to a good cause, but it felt a bit underhanded.
NAHA – 500 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654