Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Breaking out of the spring dining slump

Maybe it’s just that springtime slump, but for whatever reason, I’ve recently been yearning for fresh flavors to mix up the day-to-day dining monotony.

Nothing against my sorority’s chef, Hector, of course. The kitchen is just two floors down and turns out a fair number of quality creations. But after a couple more grilled cheese lunches than necessary, I’ve been on the prowl for something different. And I started pretty close to home… er, in my home.

Unearthing the treasures of the humble salad bar has been a surprisingly fruitful endeavor lately and a great way to augment my trips to Evanston’s Whole Foods Market, 1640 Chicago Ave.

The result of one recent concoction? Smoky char-grilled chicken breast combined with a colorful medley of peas, dried cranberries and roasted sweet potatoes. Sometimes, it’s the unexpectedness of a combination that makes it so tasty: In this case, vibrantly hued peas mingle surprisingly well with chewy burgundy berries and the rich chunks of spuds. A splash of balsamic and soy adds a salty kick to round out all that sweetness.

But enough about my sorority kitchen creations. There are other ways to escape the food monotony that don’t involve wacky mixtures and a propensity for condiments.

One of the most memorable and delicious meals I’ve had lately came from a rather unlikely spot: the Ogilvie Transportation Center Station, the mall-esque station where the Metra spits out commuters.

On a recent trek downtown with a friend, hunger pangs mounted as the double-decker commuter train zipped closer to the city. The train station was definitely the last place we expected to find a chic ambiance and superlative slices of salmon sashimi.

Think again, thanks to Thai Urban Kitchen, 500 W. Madison St. Identified as “T.U.K.” on its menu, this Thai and Japanese spot was opened in September by the Asian fusion masters behind Sura, a Thai bistro in Lakeview, and Spice, a trio of Thai spots in New York City.

As lovely as my T.U.K. experience was, I couldn’t help but wonder if the restaurant’s unlikely location in a train station was a detriment. Though centrally situated in the Loop, people don’t exactly expect to find gourmet Thai appetizers and sushi in a train station.

“People are often surprised by our restaurant…we don’t advertise, so it’s all word of mouth,” said Andy Arun, T.U.K. manager and sous chef. “We’d like to have more customers, but at the same time it’s nice to keep it a secret for a while.”

The extensive menu incorporates traditional Asian cuisine with more inventive fare. As for the presentation, it’s stylish and whimsical; a Fire Dragon rollis filled with spicy tuna and topped with eel, flourished with a tangy shiso leaf and dotted with hot sauce eyes for good measure.

Price-wise, T.U.K. is certainly college student-friendly, with excellent service for $5 appetizers and dinner entrees that top out at $14.

“We really try to keep things cheap so everyone can enjoy our food,” said Executive Chef Paul Chantharavirooj.

The speedy Metra trip makes it quite tempting to frequent Thai Urban Kitchen during the fair-weathered last few weeks of school. But it could be hard to find a constant stream of companions willing to leave the finally lush environs of Northwestern for a dinner downtown. No worries, my new dining also works within the bounds of The Arch.

My recent solution to my tuna-avocado roll overload while grabbing dinner at the Norris University Center sushi station? Slivers of shitake mushroom.

Unexpected? Check. An easy nosh filled with nostalgia for the mushroom-laden dishes that seem to fill my mother’s cooking repertoire? Check.

And if these food musings are rife with randomness and ridden with tangents, I’ll consider my latest culinary mission accomplished.

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Breaking out of the spring dining slump