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SAVOR: TAO Chicago
DISH Dining Guide
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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The last time I was at what is now Tao Chicago ( 632 N. Dearborn St.; ) was when it was Excalibur nightclub at a circuit-club event that the now-defunct Hearts Foundation hosted.

Dining at Tao turned out to be much more memorable than that night—for all the right reasons.

The restaurant—which had a star-studded premiere and which regularly has celebrity DJs at its upstairs nightclub—is an understandably huge spot. Patrons, fittingly, harbor huge expectations—and Tao meets almost every one of them.

The cavernous dining area ( with steps leading it to it that could test a tipsy individual, given the darkness ) seats up to 300 patrons, and the Asian-themed spot ( which has a 30-foot ceiling ) has a 20-foot tall Quan Yin ( or "goddess of mercy" ) statue on one side. Hostesses and servers are the telegenic sort you'd expect to send at a trendier River North spot ( an observation, not a criticism ).

But since this is a culinary item, it would behoove me to discuss the food—and it would behoove you to try it.

The menu is a lot to digest ( pun intended ), with categories such as "The Sea," "The Land" and "The Sky." There are also soups, dim sum, yakitori ( skewered chicken ), sushi and sashimi, noodles and rice, sides and even specialty rolls—which could be a nightmare for indecisive folks. ( The other drawback is the noise level. When you have even 200 diners and a room with the acoustics of Tao's, conversations can be a little challenging. )

However, the selections we tried were very impressive. Start with drinks such as the Ruby Red Dragon ( Finlandia grapefruit vodka, orange liquor, yuzu citrus, hint of pomegranate ).

Appetizers were promising, with my friend adoring the oysters with osetra caviar. Other offerings included tuna Pringles ( tuna on those chips, and which might seem slightly overpriced ), The Chilean sea bass satay ( $22! ) was absolutely lovely and my favorite app was the spicy tuna tartare on crispy rice.

As for entrees, we were treated to two intriguing items: drunken lobster pad Thai ( with brandy and cashews ) as well as the Shanghai fried rice ( rice with vegetables, shrimp, pork and egg, and covered in egg ). However, the ne plus ultra turned out to be the wagyu rib-eye teppanyaki ( at a celebration-only price of $89 ), which was served with various dipping sauces ); the meat was cooked perfectly—in fact, I didn't even need the sauces to appreciate this beguiling dish.

But—whatever you do—don't leave without trying dessert. You could go for a fruit plate, but there are other tempting items such as bread pudding doughnuts, molten chocolate cake and ( of course! ) the giant fortune cookie ( which had the fortune "Someone is thinking kinky thoughts of you" for me ).

( By the way, shout-outs go to server Ozzy and trainee Adam, who were very attentive to all tables they were assigned to—not just ours. )

At some restaurants, an evening meal can be dinner—or it can be an experience. Tao is definitely the latter.

Note: Restaurant profiles/events are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.

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