We went to Yilin about a half-hour before it closed on the Sunday night before Memorial Day. It’s very unfair to judge a new restaurant at the end of a week, especially when the place is getting ready to close for a holiday, so I’m going to talk about only the good stuff we had there. Yilin does have a huge menu of Japanese and Chinese dishes, so I think it’s likely we’ll return at a more normal time to give them a better chance to show what they’ve got.
The seaweed salad, usually doled out in what seems to be quarter-cup servings, was at Yilin a huge mound of very tender mixed sea vegetables, lightly dressed with sesame seed and sweet vinegar. Now, I usually complain about the gargantuan size of many restaurant portions, and though I greatly admire Japanese restraint in plating, I was greatly pleased to see this hungry-man mound of green goodness. Very crunchy and fresh, with slight sweet-sour notes, this salad was a good deal at $5.95.
The sushi chef comped us an octopus salad that might have been the best thing we ate that night. Thin slices of the sea creature, with beautiful, slightly chewy texture, this was an exceptional salad. Rarely do I enjoy a dish based primarily on its texture, but with this one, I did. Flavor was very good; texture, truly memorable.
This is the season for pea shoots, and the stir-fried shoots at Yilin were very delicate, with a slight hint of pea-ness, tender and tasty. I’m encouraged by the large vegetable section on the menu, including “Tony gourmet eggplant” (subtle homage to Tony Hu, the mayor of Chinatown chow?).
There are certain locations that for years can seem cursed. Papaspiro’s, now apparently thriving, moved into a location on Lake Street that had seen a number of tenant restaurants (Tsukiji, Pacific Rim, Green Onion, etc.) come and go before one finally “hit.” Similarly, the corner of Madison and Desplaines has had a parade of tenants, most recently Coral, which tried a few “concepts” before finally giving up and leaving. Yilin, the newest resident of this space, may have staying power, and although we now have over 20 Asian restaurants in the immediate area, there’s always room for another good one.