Sometimes, the best thing to do for someone is to just
plain old spoil them. And since Lauren's birthday was coming up, I had
been looking for a special place to which we had not yet journeyed so that
the element of surprise was on my side. Several recent emails
regarding a venue in Mundelein indicated that things were coming together
and that it just might fill the bill. When I consulted a map and saw
that Mundelein was a ways north of me, I decided it best find a place to
stay overnight as well. I found that this particular restaurant was
located in a hotel - the
DoubleTree - and... the plan was hatched!
Part of Lauren's forte is her knowledge
of places to stay, so I knew that the element of surprise was about as safe
as a 9th inning Cubs lead. And when we turned the corner and she
DoubleTree, I noticed a large grin and I knew that she was on
to me. No matter... the fun had only just begun. although I had
not realized it, the Hotel was decorated in sort of a Frank Lloyd Wright
style (Wright is one of Lauren's passions) and the rugs, lamps and huge
fireplace just inside the lobby entrance turned the grin into an ear-to-ear
Our room had a king bed and a Wright-style desk along with a giant arm chair in the same style; on the bed
was a small bag of "goodies" that included lavender spray for the pillow, a
sleep mask and earplugs. There was also a CD sleep disk that could
help one to relax... as if it would be needed tonight! Lauren's next
surprise was a knock on the door, followed by a large tray that included two
glasses of red wine, raspberries, crackers and several different kinds of
cheeses - including Bleu (our favorite) delivered to the door.
We sampled everything and then took a quick tour of
After a short workout in the fitness
center and a swim in a large indoor pool, we showered and dressed for dinner
- the final piece in the birthday surprise puzzle. Dinner was to be at
the highly acclaimed Karma, described as "Pan-Asian" cuisine and "one of the
most sought after destinations of the North Shore." The menu alone was
a palate-teasing experience that encompassed an eclectic mix of Japanese,
Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Indian flavors. We sipped Saki while we
anticipated being seated.
The Karma lounge, in fact the entire
restaurant, was an interesting study in austerity that managed to somehow
also feel warm and comfortable - despite the high ceilings and cavernous
size. Small cocktail table tops in the lounge glowed with an eerie
green Kryptonite glow... or was it a wasabi glow? In any case, the
same glow oozed from the tall, hand-blown glass bamboo shoots surrounding
the Hostess desk. Inside, one's attention was immediately drawn to the
huge reflecting pool in the middle of the restaurant - an artists concept
perhaps of a rice paddy. About a third of the far wall was composed of
water slithering down across square black porcelain tiles. The black
tables were empty save black cloth napkin-wrapped silverware, pairs of black chopsticks and a thin glass vase with
a bamboo shoot growing in it.
Dinner started with a complimentary bowl of edamame sprinkled with spicy orange seasoning flakes, and an additional Saki.
The menu supplied some of the most difficult dinner choices that I have ever
attempted to make. The appetizer list included items like Wild Mushroom
Pot Stickers with Ponzu Sauce ($7.50) and Togarashi Spiced Fried
Calamari with lemon and Asian Dipping Sauce ($9), both of which sounded
really tempting. We finally decided to share the Sashimi Ahi Tuna
with Soba Noodle Salad and Wasabi Aioli ($8.50) and the Firecracker
Spring Rolls with Peanut Chicken & Mustard Honey Sauce - also spicy - ($7). The
Spring Rolls were a vegetable mix and were an excellent choice - just the
right amount of fire - and the deep purple color of the tuna indicated an
excellent grade of the delicacy - it literally melted in our mouths.
Dinner choices were also, as stated, difficult... but actually fun to make. Lauren selected the Tempura
Whole Stripped Bass resting on Fermented Black Bean Sauce ($18).
I was so enamored of the tuna appetizer that I decided to have more tuna; I
chose the Grilled Big Eye Tuna with Okinawa Sweet Potato Puree, Coconut
Braised Spinach and Green Peppercorn Sauce ($23). We also had a
Karma Caesar Salad with Tomato Confit, Avocado and Spicy Caesar Dressing
- emphasis on spicy! - ($5.50) and a side dish of Duck Fried Rice
The dinners were beautifully plated,
provided an amazing wealth of flavors and were more than ample in size.
Lauren's fillets were removed from the carcass, but both carcass and fillets
were dipped in tempura and fried and served alongside one another, providing
an interesting look on the plate. The batter was light and crispy; the
dish had a spicy sauce and was accompanied by the same sort of tasty Asian
slaw that came with our Firecracker Spring Rolls. A separate cup
of dipping sauce might have been a nice addition to the entree. My
tuna was perfectly cooked and the strange combination of flavors (like the
coconut-braised spinach) was a wonderful change of pace. I especially
like the sweet potato puree.
The manager stopped by and asked if he
could get us to preview a new dessert that the chef had developed but not
yet placed on the menu. We were stuffed but also curious, so we caved
and the Chocolate Obsession soon graced our table. Two mounds of
flourless chocolate cake with fudge centers and topped with chocolate ice,
surrounded by raspberries, raspberry sauce and four chocolate truffles dared
us to try to keep from succumbing to a diabetic coma. Definitely add
it to the menu! Thank heavens we had to navigate only as far as our
room... I was so full that I could hardly walk.
In closing I will have to admit that I had read a review prior to our evening and the critic awarded only two of
his maximum 4 stars to Karma. I realize that while I thought we had
similar tastes, I knew we had to have different opinions about the same
venues... just not this different. Although I would have preferred hot
plates beneath my dinner, far less pepper on my Caesar Salad and perhaps a
bit more imagination/creativity with the vast array of Asian ingredients
available, I was thoroughly impressed with the food, service, ambiance and
the overall feel of Karma. I do think that they were not quite
prepared for the number of diners that night - a lone server at one point
was taking care of 12 tables, and doing a tremendous job of it... I never
thought that our service suffered as a result. Well done to the staff
at Karma, and hats off to one of the calmest waiters I have seen under such
pressure. I give Karma Four Zins and strongly urge you to treat
yourself to this opportunity at your earliest possible convenience!
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