CHANT, Noodles Etc.’s new venture into “contemporary Asian” cuisine, is a neighborhood restaurant worth visiting. It exists as an example of what diners yearn for: a clean, nicely presented, and comfortable place to get a great meal. The restaurant takes many risks–in its menu and dÃ©cor, particularly–but this should not discourage anyone from stopping by. CHANT’s honest effort to reinvigorate favorite Asian dishes demonstrates its enthusiasm and dedication to give Hyde Park what Clair Smith, manager of CHANT, describes as “a nice place where [Hyde Park residents] can come.”
CHANT’s menu reflects the restaurant’s fresh effort to refashion classic Asian flavors and dishes. Appetizers and main dishes are easily recognizable and reassuringly familiar, similar to those found in Noodles Etc.’s comfortable culinary repertoire. As a result, CHANT’s updated dishes do not challenge diners; they merely kindle a certain curiosity and taste for something different. To seasoned restaurant goers, the Lobster Rangoon, Spicy Asian Wings and Beef Massaman Curry are hardly intimidating, yet quite stimulating. The Asparagus Rolls are another example of the restaurant’s attempt to rework the Japanese sushi, maki. By lightly encrusting the rolls with Panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs), “flash baking” them, and drizzling them with a teriyaki-balsamic sauce, CHANT effectively updates the simple sushi dish. This intriguing consideration of maki makes for an interesting dining experience; the nori wrap is too chewy to eat —perhaps as a result of the flash baking, and the Panko crust is texturally too subtle to really notice. If anything, the Panko crust serves more as an element of plating and presentation than an element of texture.
At times, CHANT undertakes the difficult task of joining seemingly incongruous flavors and ingredients, with various results. Its Spicy Korean Noodles Salad, a variation on the classic Korean noodle dish jap chae, combines carrots, avocado and mint —three things not normally associated with the Korean original. The Asian Pear and Watercress Salad with Toasted Almonds and Apple-Star Anise Dressing, despite its lengthy and descriptive title, presents a rather short-lived gustatory experience. The combination of Asian pear, watercress and star anise presents a potential-laden blend of flavors on the menu. In practice, however, the salad’s flavors are not as seamless as one would wish. The watercress overwhelms the salad, masking the sweet freshness of the Asian pear and usually robust anise spice. Shreds of scallions and cucumber also dot the salad, taking away the possible cohesiveness of the dish by surprising the diner with some unexpected textures and onion-y flavor.
Despite these few faint dishes, CHANT’s menu is not without its gems. The Crispy Mussel Bites, a surefire soon-to-be favorite at CHANT, is an innovative and successfully executed dish. Battered and pan-fried green mussels, served with a sprinkling of fresh mung bean sprouts and a dash of Sri Racha hot sauce on top, exhibits the inventive effort and growing potential of CHANT’s culinary range. The dish has a nice crunchy, yet chewy texture to it, and remains tolerably spicy with the right amount of chili sauce for flavor. Additionally, the mung beans bring a great contrast in flavor: a refreshing burst of moisture that helps to neutralize the pungent tang of the Sri Racha.
The Pumpkin-Coconut Soup is something worth ordering every visit to the restaurant. Its tangy lime and lemongrass flavors enhance the smooth, buttery flavor of the kabocha pumpkin, leaving a surprisingly savory aftertaste. The soup is reminiscent of a good yellow curry sauce, both deep in flavor and surprisingly light. The soup’s texture, however, is slightly cumbersome, with small chunks of pumpkin revealing the grainy texture of the vegetable. A smooth, blended texture would make this dish even better.
Dining at CHANT is a dynamic and ongoing experience. ReneÃ© Davenport, another manager of the restaurant, assures patrons, “If something isn’t working, then we can try something different…that’s the beauty of having a new place. You get to get the feedback from the residents, your customers. And if something’s not working, we’re going to be a place that listens to that and take suggestions to heart.” Clearly, CHANT is a restaurant with its neighbors in mind.
CHANT, 1509 E. 53rd St. (773)324-1999. Sunday-Thursday 11 am-12 am; Friday-Saturday 11 am-2 am. Dishes $9-$14