An Edible Journey Through Asia
Don’t complain that you haven’t been warned, because I’m telling you upfront to leave room for the giant fortune cookie dessert when you’re having dinner at Tao Chicago on North Dearborn in River North. The other desserts (molten chocolate cake, banana pudding et al) are excellent, but you really have to experience the over-the-top fortune cookie, complete with chocolate-dipped edges and cavities filled with dark chocolate mousse on one side and light chocolate mousse on the other.
Of course, fortune cookies aren’t really Chinese. But when it comes to cooking, creativity regularly trumps authenticity. Food evolves; cuisines cross-pollinate.
Consider, for example, the menu at Tao Chicago. It meanders through Asia, mingling dishes from China, Japan and Thailand with ingredients and concepts that are, on occasion, plucked from elsewhere. The yellowtail poke tacos, for example, are finished with a soy vinaigrette and spicy sour cream, while the aged bone-in ribeye sports a maple soy glaze. But don’t be confused, the food at Tao Chicago is emphatically Asian, as is the dramatic decor dominated by a towering statue of Quan Yin, a benevolent deity venerated as the Goddess of Mercy by Chinese Buddhists.
The best way to sample Tao’s menu is to order as a group. There are, of course, a few musts, such as the satay of Chilean sea bass glazed with miso and the lobster wontons in a rich shiitake ginger broth that’s laced with butter. Executive chef Laura Sendik says the broth is so good that diners rarely leave more than a drop or two.
Promoted to executive chef at the beginning of June, Sendik has been on staff at Tao Chicago since the restaurant opened in 2018 in a vintage greystone that was once home to the Chicago Historical Society. The building’s carefully crafted interior, which also includes a separately housed nightclub, exudes an intimacy enhanced by both the attentive service and the generous spacing of the tables in the dining room.
“Dining at Tao is meant to be a transcendent experience,” Chef Sendik observes. “Walk through the door, and you’re in a different world, a place where you can craft a meal that will take you on a culinary journey through Asia- no passport required.”
TAO Chicago, 632 Dearborn, Chicago 224.888.0388
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Pantry-to-Plate is a food-focused blog written by a lifelong foodie with an insatiable curiosity about the interaction between food, history, and culture.
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