My visit to Aruns took place Sunday night. While I enjoyed the evening, I cannot report that it was the best meal Ive had this year. Im glad to have had the experience, but I dont feel the need to go back. My general critique (as a non-expert with a laypersons knowledge of Thai cuisine) is that the flavors did not sing. Nor did they dance. Nothing was quite hot enough, nothing quite precise enough. Does that make sense? But, on the other hand, there were many beautiful and interesting things to eat, in a serene and lovely setting that is not quite like anyplace I've eaten in Chicago. (Now, on to Spoon Thai, right?)
There were 6 individually-plated appetizers (my dining companion is allergic to crustaceans, so we didnt always have the same thing), four family-style entrees, and two desserts. Every dish was a little work of art; garnishes were elaborate (intricately carved carrots at the four corners of the plates, etc.). Servers described each dish as it arrived. We were not asked to express a preference regarding the heat of the dishes.
I was going to try to get a list of exactly what we ate before posting, but I dont feel inclined to bother with it now, so Ill try to go from memory. Most of the dishes were presented without Thai names (just a list of ingredients was given).
1. Salad of greens with a vegetable tempura skewer (sweet potato, zuccini), a crisp fish cracker, and chili dressing. The battered vegetables were bland, but the fish wafer and chili dressing were nice.
2. Thai crepe with vegetable and tofu filling, served with papaya and green bean salad. Very nice crepe, great filling, and the papaya salad had a nice chili-infused dressing. This one was a winner.
3. Scallop atop crab cake with yam custard (my dining companion had fried trout as his replacement, I believe). Im not a huge fan of crab cakes, and this one did not change my opinion, but I did like the yam custard underneath.
4. Fish custard wrapped in lettuce leaves. Tasty and beautiful to look at, with a great combination of spices (cardomom and anise, I think) one of the best appetizers.
5. Dumpling filled with lobster and chicken in sweet and salty sauce. This sauce finally had a nice heat, but why was it so sticky sweet? The filling was blah. My dining companions non-crustacean replacement was the same dish filled with just vegetables.
6. Sticky rice (oddly, wrapped in plastic) and served in a little bamboo box. I cannot remember what accompanied it.
1. Duck with little tart triangles filled with greens. Very, very nice, but only one tiny bite of duck per person I wanted more of this one to get a sense of the flavors.
2. Shredded chicken mussaman curry, which didnt distinguish itself in my memory. I largely ignored this dish.
3. Fried lobster, crab and shrimp nice, lovely, with a chili dressing. My dining companions replacement was pork with red cabbage; the pork was tasty, but the cabbage was sweet without tang.
4. Im forgetting the fourth entree. I believe it was a fish dish.
1. Sweet potato tart. Tiny, very sweet, satisfying.
2. Buttercup cake with a tiny scoop of sorbet the size of my thumb tip, and fruit. The cake was more like a wafer sliced in half lengthwise. Very good.
Thai iced coffee. Always a joy.
White: Half-bottle of Champalou Vouvray 2002.
Red: half-bottle of Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 1998
Very attentive, but not overly warm. Because there were so many courses, things felt very busy: servers were constantly coming and going, bringing more silverware, bringing and removing plates, etc. One complaint: one of our half bottles of wine had a moldy taste (Im told this is referred to as being corked). We didnt discover this until the second course, as we had been drinking champagne up until then. The server responded a little huffily, stating well, thats why I asked you to taste it earlier. He did bring a new bottle, but he wasnt as nice about it as he should have been.
A pretty space with beautiful artwork on the walls and lots of unique touches (the bar area's paint scheme is lovely; my dining companion pointed out that it replicates the light of morning, afternoon, and night). I love the outside of the building with the orange lit panels and gold shrines in the windows. But the dining room didnt blow me away (worn carpet where I would have expected beautiful wood floors; lighting that did not make the most of the rich colors and artwork; bathroom not up to par).
Well, you can imagine how much it cost.
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