For some odd reason, we just wound up at two places in Arlington Heights whose names start with Y. Y not?
We paid our first visit to Yanni's, which is in the parking lot of Mitsuwa Market. This may be the most beautiful Greek restaurant in the Chicago area. The lovely multi-level dining room filled with plants, a central fireplace, and a vine-laced colonnade give the effect of a Grecian courtyard, which is enhanced by large windows overlooking a pond that ought to be great in the summer. It looked like they might have some outdoor dining when the weather's better. A good place to take somebody you wanted to impress.
The excellent starters include kolokithakia scharas, potent skordalia -- garlic spread -- served with long slices of grilled zucchini, and tiroflogeres, kasseri cheese, rolled in a thin crispy coating of phyllo, served with a wedge of lemon. The avgolemeno, egg-lemon soup, has plenty of chicken but suffers from a lack of lemon flavor and the addition of gummy orzo pasta.
We had the combination, on which the nicest item was plump, lemony dolmades avgolemeno, grape leaves filled with lamb and a little rice -- it also included leg of lamb and pastitsio -- and an order of moussaka. The moussaka was decent, though with a higher meat to eggplant ratio than I prefer, and a little crisp around the edges. We were there late on a Sunday and the waiter told us we got the last order; it would likely be better earlier. There are also chef's specials that feature daily, plus fresh fish and the usual Greek standards.
There's a dessert tray with a number of delicious-looking options. We took the lightest of the bunch -- a crisp roll of fried dough, drenched in Greek honey. When it came, it turned out to be two rolls. There was decent Greek coffee too.
The waiter was reasonably attentive, but dour in that way Greek waiters so often are, and inaccurate to boot. He put two cocktails on our tab that had been ordered by the adjoining table and we heard another table send back their food because he'd brought the wrong dishes. However, he fixed the problems with a minimum of fuss and so I wouldn't downgrade it too much over that -- just check your bill closely.
It cost us a little under $40 a person, after the bill was adjusted, which I thought was a tad high for what we had. That included charges for refills on soft drinks, which meant the Cokes added up to $9. The entree prices ranged up to $29 for lamb.
When Yummy Gourmet opened four years ago, their menu concentrated on Hong Kong specialties, making them very different from most of the other suburban Chinese restaurants. However, reviews of the place concentrated on some of the more exotic items, like the pigeon and tripe, and customers stayed away in droves.
So they have revamped the main menu to make it more like what suburbanites expect. Not to worry, they don't seem to have actually done away with most of the unusual dishes. When you come into the restaurant, check out the board in the foyer for the specials. Then, as you enter past the long counter, snag one of the paper carry-out menus stacked there. Between that and the regular menu, which is presented as a scroll, you'll have the bulk of what they offer. (The problem, they explained, is that the fancy scroll limits the size the menu can be, so they had to leave things out. Most of the noodle dishes, for example, are on the carry-out menu.)
If you're determined to see everything they have to offer, ask for the Chinese menu, which is a laminated card (they're at the far end of the counter, along with Japanese-language menus). The menu is in English as well as Chinese, and as far as I could tell with a quick look mostly duplicated the other menus with just a few extras like deep-fried pork intestine.
We had gingery Shanghai-style dumplings in broth (now called "Shanghai wontons") -- one order is enough for two to share -- and crisp, savory, slightly greasy spring rolls to start with. Salt & pepper shrimp was the best of our entrees on this visit, with extra thin, shattery shells coated in flavorful spice. The twice-cooked pork was meaty but lacked the nuances I associate with dish -- it was pretty much like barbecued pork with cabbage in brown sauce -- I won't order it again. We also had an order of excellent pea shoots sauteed in garlic sauce. Many of their other dishes are better. (But I forgot to check on whether a favorite dish from the old menu was still available -- chicken stuffed with ham with Portuguese sauce, a dish that's apparently the chef's riff on a Macau specialty.)
Yummy is a large, attractive storefront in the Prospect Crossing strip mall, which is anchored by a Dominick's that's about to close. A great deal of attention seems to have been paid to design elements that look as if they may have been arranged according by feng shui principles, such as the placement of the chairs at an angle to the tables, but that may just be my ignorance.
The service is friendly and attentive. You'll have to ask for chopsticks if you want them. Our meal ran under $20 each.
I'd say that with careful ordering, Yummy Gourmet has the potential to be a destination restaurant. There are often large Asian groups eating there. Yanni's food is less distinct from other Greek restaurants, but it's certainly worth stopping in if you're nearby.
Yanni's Greek Restaurant
10 E. Algonquin Road
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. M-Th; -11 p.m. F; 4-11 p.m. Sa; 12-9:30 p.m. Su
Yummy Gourmet Restaurant
Prospect Crossing Shopping Center
1255 N. Rand Road
Arlington Heights, IL 60004
11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Su-Th; -10 p.m. F-Sa