After a brief hiatus due to the recent upheaval in my life caused by my unemployment and re-employment, my restaurant review column in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, "Dining Due Diligence," made a comeback today. Check out the latest installment:
Sequestered away in a largely residential area of River North is Chef Michael Taus' Zealous, a true hidden gem of the Chicago dining scene. Its unassuming exterior belies an elegant yet industrial-inspired interior, decorated in muted earth tones punctuated by regal purple accents. A dramatic skylight dominates the space from above, while a unique bamboo garden gives a degree of privacy to a special chef's table in the center of the room, suitable for entertaining a medium-sized group.
The tranquil environment provides the perfect atmosphere to encourage conversation, and the generous distances between tables would allow business diners to discuss delicate matters with discretion. Furthermore, the exceedingly obliging staff is quick to cater to any food intolerance, allergy or special request, making Zealous an ideal destination for picky eaters and discerning palates alike.
Attention to detail not only characterizes the impeccable service, it is the guiding principle behind Taus' food as well. A seasonal amuse-bouche of a truffled pumpkin profiterole opened the meal, followed by a basket of warm, subtly dill-scented bread that was not overpoweringly herbaceous.
Visually-arresting appetizers were soon to follow, providing a feast for the eyes as much as the taste buds. Yogurt was the perfect, tangy accompaniment for the rich, lamb meatball flatbreads. Za'atar, the sumac-based Mediterranean seasoning blend, provided a lemony component that further balanced the dish and prevented it from becoming too heavy. The Polynesian salad presented a pleasant combination of savory flavors and textures, contrasted with a sweet dressing, though the fried shrimp on the plate seemed slightly less than fresh.
The entrée course was somewhat less successful, though every plate that arrived at the table was photo-ready. Filet of beef was beautifully cooked and meltingly tender, though the mushroom "lasagna" that accompanied it was dull and muddled in flavor. The waiter recommended the Korean-style fried chicken as a current favorite of the chef, but the boneless chicken emerged dry and tough, if shatteringly crisp.
A salad of apple and daikon provided a crisp, refreshing counterbalance to the fried meat, but the accompanying sticky rice sticks lived up to its name in the worst possible way by firmly insinuating themselves into the molars.
The kitchen succeeded when it came to fish. Both the Asian-inspired Chilean sea bass and the roasted halibut were cooked to perfection.
Though Zealous may not be the trendiest spot in town, Taus lives up to his restaurant's namesake by executing tremendous food in a soothing atmosphere. Given the effort put forth by Taus and his staff, the restaurant at 419 W. Superior St. is well-named.
Visit the restaurant's website at zealousrestaurant.com.