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Dining Out

Chicago 2011 Part 6 - Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi, Frontera Fresco, Marc Burger

by Michael Chu
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Macy's State Street department store is housed in the original Marshall Field and Company Building (111 North State Street, Chicago, IL). Hidden in plain view on the seventh floor is a food court (not to be confused with the basement food court) they call Seven on State. This food court has five quick service restaurants with three of them backed by celebrity chefs: Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi, Marc Burger (Marcus Samuelsson), and Frontera Fresco (Rick Bayless). I had a taste of all three.

There really isn't any decent ramen to be found in Austin, Texas, so every time we go out of town, we always wonder if the location we are visiting has good ramen. Ramen isn't the instant noodle stuff that you pull out of a bag with a spice packet and throw into hot water to steep for 4-5 minutes. It's a rich and flavorful wheat noodle soup that can be prepared a variety of ways, but what makes ramen good is the quality of the broth, the noodles, and the toppings. There are many types of ramen broth and most ramen shops will specialize in one type or another because the broths take a lot of time and ingredients to prepare (some requiring a dozen hours to simmer with pork bones, collagen, and a variety of other meats and fish to produce an unctuous and complex broth with others based simply on a chicken or vegetable stock and seasoned with just the right amount of soy sauce). Besides the broth, the noodles themselves are important to the ramen eating experience. The best are made fresh at the restaurant (although this isn't always possible depending on the scale of the restaurant and the amount of business they do selling ramen - this is why Japanese restaurants which have ramen as an item on an extensive menu often do not have decent ramen) with flour, salt, and alkaline water (kansui, water that has been treated with edible alkaline salts such as sodium carbonate, potassium carbonate, and sodium biphosphate dodecahydrate). The alkaline water (which can also be approximated with a potassium chloride and sodium bicarbonate [baking soda] solution) turns the noodles yellow, gives then a unique mildly alkaline taste (think of the flavor difference between corn meal and masa), and makes the texture of the noodles chewier and more resistant. Lastly, toppings can differ greatly by style and region (just like the broth does) ranging from hard boiled eggs, seaweed, marinated bamboo shoots, and roasted pork loins to canned corn, pickled ginger, and shredded onions.

Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi - Shoyu Ramen with Pork Dumplings "Potstickers"
Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi serves four different ramen: shoyu ramen, miso ramen, chicken ramen, and a mushroom tofu ramen. I chose the shoyu ramen ($8.95) which comes topped with marinated bamboo shoots (menma), braised pork loin (chashu), seaweed, and narutomaki (a type of fish cake kamaboko). I liked the ramen and would classify the whole package as decent. The shoyu broth was flavorful and well made, the noodles had the right flavor and chewiness, and the toppings were fresh (I always feel let down when I find a ramen place with good broth, good noodles, but the chashu is stale). Overall, a decent ramen that is worth eating. I wouldn't list it as one of the better ramens that I've eaten, but it certainly satisfied a multiple month long craving for ramen.

Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi - Shoyu Ramen
I also ordered a half order of pork dumplings for $2 more. These were decent but nothing special.

Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi - Miso Ramen
Tina had the miso ramen ($8.95) which was made with a pork broth which was flavored with miso paste. It came with braised pork, corn, bean sprouts, and seaweed. Because of the style of the ramen, her soup base was richer and more flavorful than mine. I thought it was very good and definitely worth eating again (which she did at a later date when I returned to try Marc Burger).

Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi - Miso Ramen with Shrimp Harumaki Spring Rolls
Along with her ramen, Tina got a half order of the shrimp harumaki spring rolls for $2 more.

Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi - Miso Ramen and Marshall Fields Building Interior

Frontera Fresco - Cochinita Pibil and Roasted Garlic-Mushroom Tacos
While eating at Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi, we were talking to one of the managers of Seven on State and she comped us a couple of tacos from Frontera Fresco. She brought over a cochinita pibil taco and roasted garlic-mushroom taco. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to eat the tacos and appreciate them after a large bowl of ramen, but I gave it a taste and found that I couldn't put them down. The Cochinita Pibil taco (roasted pulled pork with pickled vegetables) was the best pork taco either of us had ever had anywhere. (And, I've eaten quite a few pork tacos.) The Roasted Garlic-Mushroom taco had goat cheese and arugula in it and was also delicious.

Marc Burger - Kobe Sliders
A few days later, we returned to Seven on State so Tina could have another bowl of ramen. It was a warm day and I didn't feel like more ramen, so I decided to try either Frontera Fresco or Marc Burger. Since we were planning on going to Xoco and Frontera Grill the following day, I decided on getting the Kobe Sliders ($8.95) from Marc Burger. These were two small burgers made of U.S. Kobe beef (misnamed - I'm assuming they mean U.S. wagyu beef or wagyu mixed-breed beef; there's also no mention of the cut from which the meat was ground) and topped with truffle aioli. I found the burgers to be nothing special. They pretty much tasted like a normal burger to me with the aioli overpowered by the cheese they smothered the burger in. Not a bad burger, but I wouldn't go out of my way to eat it. Given the choice (unless I was craving a burger and found myself nearby) I probably wouldn't return to Marc Burger, but I would definitely recommend eating at Frontera Fresco or Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi instead.

Marshall Fields Building - Seven on State

Marshall Fields Building American Flag
For ease of navigation and to keep the page sizes down, I've split the trip report and reviews into multiple pages:
Chicago 2011 Part 1a - Overview
Chicago 2011 Part 1b - Overview
Chicago 2011 Part 2 - Shui Wah, Santa Anna Bakery
Chicago 2011 Part 3 - Pizzeria Uno, Giordano's
Chicago 2011 Part 4 - Gibson's Bar & Steakhouse
Chicago 2011 Part 5 - Frontera Grill, Xoco
Chicago 2011 Part 6 - Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi, Frontera Fresco, Marc Burger (this page)
Chicago 2011 Part 7 - Alinea
Chicago 2011 Part 8 - Vienna Beef Factory
Chicago 2011 Part 9 - Girl and the Goat

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Written by Michael Chu
Published on August 14, 2011 at 10:00 PM
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