Level 257 plays into 80s-philes' hands with unique crafty menu, unique cocktails

  • A sprinkling of Pop Rocks give explosive taste to the Chocolate Power Pellets at Level 257 at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg.

      A sprinkling of Pop Rocks give explosive taste to the Chocolate Power Pellets at Level 257 at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Crispy Chicken Salad is one of several salad options at Level 257 at Woodfield Mall.

      Crispy Chicken Salad is one of several salad options at Level 257 at Woodfield Mall. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Two 3-ounce patties sit between brioche buns on Level 257's The Double Dot Burger.

      Two 3-ounce patties sit between brioche buns on Level 257's The Double Dot Burger. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Scottish salmon is among the unexpected entrees at Level 257, a retro gaming-themed entertainment complex at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg.

      Scottish salmon is among the unexpected entrees at Level 257, a retro gaming-themed entertainment complex at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Amish chicken is on the entree menu at Level 257 in Woodfield Mall.

      Amish chicken is on the entree menu at Level 257 in Woodfield Mall. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Goat cheese gives Level 257's five-cheese pizza a pleasant bite.

      Goat cheese gives Level 257's five-cheese pizza a pleasant bite. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Among Level 257's inventive cocktails is the Gee Bee made with gin, ginger liqueur, cucumber and basil.

      Among Level 257's inventive cocktails is the Gee Bee made with gin, ginger liqueur, cucumber and basil. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Push Pop, made with pineapple rum, blood orange liqueur, fresh lime juice and cream, doubles as a cocktail and as a dessert.

      Push Pop, made with pineapple rum, blood orange liqueur, fresh lime juice and cream, doubles as a cocktail and as a dessert. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
By Deborah Pankey
Updated 4/17/2015 10:58 AM

If you're more into pork belly than "Pac-Man" or prefer foie gras to "Frogger," then Level 257 at Woodfield might not be for you. But if you get more excited by the sight of Mario the mustachioed plumber than Mario Batali the orange-clogged uber chef, then the retro video game-themed restaurant should be right up your alley.

Level 257, the prototype restaurant and entertainment center themed after "Pac-Man," the iconic 1980s video game, opened in February. Rather than give off the vibe of a paneled family room with mismatched plaid couches, the space is sleek and modern, a blend of dark wood and black leather brightened by oversized paper lantern-like lights. Diners of all ages can select traditional tables with really comfy leather bolstered chairs on the bar level, or a number of high-top tables that put them closer to the action.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That action includes 16 bowling lanes, various table tennis and table hockey games and more than 80 classic video games and pinball machines, all restored. While dads lose themselves in "Galaga," younger gamers can try video pursuits from this century. The Lost and Found Lounge invites guests to settle into comfy couches for a game of chess or Risk.

After you bowl a near perfect game or log the high score on "Centipede," you'll need to refuel and that's where the menu steals the show.

For openers, we put our money on the soft pretzel. Two easily shareable twists showed up with a pair of dipping sauces. The mildly spicy cheese appeared with a slight skin on the top that signaled it had lingered in the kitchen a bit too long. A garlicky oil filled the other cup, and while I appreciated the step away from honey mustard, the pretzel dough was just too dense to adequately sop up the flavorful oil. Other starter options include shrimp spring rolls and bacon-wrapped dates.

Dinner options run the gamut from burgers -- the signature Double Dot Burger features two 3-ounce beef patties with the standard toppings on a toasted brioche bun -- and hearty entrees like Scottish salmon and Amish chicken. During my family's lunch visit we opted for lighter fare. The pulled pork racked up the most points, scoring big with its sweet sauce and a toasty bun that absorbed the sauce while still supporting the pile of tender meat. The fries -- skin-on, crispy and somewhere between shoestring and steakhouse -- proved the perfect accompaniment.

I was less impressed with the banh mi turkey sandwich. I give the kitchen props for thinking outside the standard bar food box, but deli turkey did not stand up to the bold Vietnamese flavors and the piquant garnishes. I think this sandwich would have worked better as a grilled Asian-spiced turkey burger.

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The tart goat cheese on the five-cheese pizza was a welcome surprise and even appealed to the youngest one in our group. The crispy chicken salad featured a generous amount of heavily breaded chicken breast strips with romaine, heirloom tomatoes and hard-boiled egg slices. Chicken, salmon and steak can be added to other salads, including the spinach and blue cheese combo and the curried kale.

Side salads are available with entrees and sandwiches and are generously portioned and nicely composed with mixed greens, radish slices and halved grape tomatoes. All the dressings are made fresh in house, and the kitchen puts forth some inventive mixes. The apricot vinaigrette I selected was more applesauce texture than vinaigrette, but the bright fruit notes really perked up the salad and clung to the lettuce leaves.

A kids menu offers standard fare including chicken tenders and macaroni and cheese, and appeals to youngsters with more adventurous palates with seared trout and a marinated tofu sandwich. I give Level 257 a lot of credit for offering carrots, green beans, cauliflower, spinach and broccoli along with fries as side dishes.

While my boys ran off to play (the games all work with cards programmed in 15-minute increments), I sipped the last of a grapefruit-infused Level Up -- one of many well-designed signature cocktails (there's also a number of craft beers) and popped some Power Pellets. The chocolate ganache-filled dough balls must be consumed in one bite to avoid the warm chocolate dripping onto your shirt. Strawberry Pop Rocks sprinkled on top add to the explosive enjoyment of these little gems.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Apple-cranberry turnovers and sticky toffee pudding provide some other tempting desserts.

Our server was attentive, informative and generous, offering a few perks that I'm sure don't cut too far into the bottom line yet go a long way toward us planning a return visit. After all, we need to see if my husband still has the high score on "Galaga."

• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.

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