At the White House, the Green Room is where the President greets guests. In the television world, a green room is the place where guests relax waiting for their turn in front of the camera.
In Libertyville, The Green Room is a bit of both and then some: a spot where the staff warmly welcomes diners to munch on global favorites and a place that proudly recycles elements from its former restaurant inhabitant.
Some of the tables, seating, bowls and silverware — as well as some of the menu items — are carry-overs from the location's former life as Henry Yee's Chinese Restaurant. The place has a scrappy feel, as my dining partner described it, and we mean that in the best sense. There's not an ounce of pretension in the place: repeat diners come in and sidle up to the bar, a stack of vinyl records tucked under their arms, to be spun on owner/chef Dan Temesy's turntable. Yes, turntable.
The walls have been washed in pleasant green hues, adorned by modern art as well as musical instruments and images.
Temesy and his wife Maria Mandarino, also a chef, opened the restaurant earlier this year with the goal of showcasing signature dishes from across the globe.
“We're not acting like we're doing something new,” Mandarino said. “We serve time-honored dishes that have never gone out of vogue.”
So they're not using liquid nitrogen or deconstructing duck a l'orange in the kitchen, and that's quite all right with me because what they are doing is crafting recipes they love. It shows on the plate, and in the bowl.
Take the chicken soup, for example. I'm not sure you can get much more classic than chicken soup. What I love about this soup — even more than the stock that tastes and feels more homemade than my own — is the diner's ability to personalize the bowl. Spinach, bok choy, broccoli, ramen noodles, chicken and tofu are among the dozen-plus items that the kitchen will stir into your bowl.
The Polynesian skirt steak was another winner. Available in 8-ounce or 16-ounce portions, the sliced meat came atop a bed of rice; the steak was tender and pleasantly sweet, brushed with a pineapple and soy-infused butter. Trying to be budget- and calorie-conscious, I ordered the smaller of the two and after one bite regretted the decision as visions of leftovers danced through my head.
I tried the Thai cucumber salad on the side, and the bit of acid from the dressing played nicely off the sweet entree. A number of other sides (house salad and Chinese long beans among them) are available.
When presented with the catch of the day, a pan-fried walleye, the fish seemed almost bigger than the plate. Cooked to a nice flaky doneness and plated with an array of seasonal vegetables, this dish was a stand out.
Less impressive was the beef and broccoli. The gravy was just so-so. Some of the other global favorites include chicken piccata, Thai-style crispy duck and General Tso's chicken.
The dessert menu holds just a single item: a mini Key Lime tart. But hey, when you've got something this good, is there really a reason to have anything else? Seriously, the flavor screamed lime without making you pucker, and the crust had crunch without being brittle. We ordered one to split three ways. We should have ordered two. Or three.
The Green Room has a variety of craft beers in bottles, cans and on tap and some reasonably priced wines by the glass in its cellar.
Since my visit, a few sandwiches (shrimp po'boy and Cuban pork) have been added to the menu and Temesy says they plan to start lunch service on Fridays and Saturdays later this summer.
We had one service misstep and we wouldn't have even known it. Turns out our artichoke fritter appetizer (nicely battered, not oily) was served with the slightly spiced rémoulade that's supposed to accompany the crabcakes. Mandarino spotted the error and brought us the rich bernaise, but frankly, we preferred the rémoulade. Other appetizers include French pate, crab rangoon (made with real crab) and chicken wings available with traditional blue cheese, sticky Thai or green coconut curry dips.
I'd be remiss if I wrapped this up without revisiting the music. The soundtrack from “The Big Chill” was playing when we walked in and gave me the feeling I'd entered a friend's den. More than one person came in toting albums that would take their turn on the turntable during the evening.
The album-listening party started out as a Monday night thing, but now you can show up any night with vinyl and they'll do their best to play a track or two.
When I go back, I'm bringing ELO.
Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.