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TODAY

Wednesday, July 17

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This week I'm reviewing not one, but two undeniably quirky BYOB noodle restaurants for your gastronomical pleasure. Oh, but you're on Atkins and can't eat carbs? That's too bad. It's time to give noodles the love they deserve.

The food at Cozy Noodles and Rice in Wrigleyville is quite good, but that's by no means the most memorable thing about this place. Sunny yellow walls, homemade tables crafted from antique sewing machines and mosaics, and a marvelously outlandish collection of toys and gadgets displayed in every nook and cranny make for a rather colorful dining experience. And that's not all. More than 1,000 Pez dispensers are glued to the wall in the women's restroom, and in the men's room? You guessed it: Fast food toys are plastered from floor to ceiling. It is impossible to do this space justice in print -- you really have to see it to believe it.

Luckily, as I've said, this Evanston transplant is able to rise above the kitsch and serve food that is hot, fresh, and priced very fair. Menu items are what you would expect of any Thai restaurant with the usual favorites -- tom yum soup, potstickers, cucumber salad, pad thai, fried rice, and curry dishes. There are a few specials that slightly deviate from the standard fare -- in particular, a fantastic crispy pad thai with fried noodles and a hint of lime. Only one dish on the menu -- the spicy shrimp over jasmine rice -- exceeds $6. It's just that cheap.

Sure, Cozy won't win any creativity awards as far as the food is concerned, but who can complain about consistently decent food, conversation-inducing decor, and low prices? And the other thing I love about this place is the service. All the employees are gracious, helpful, and even downright cheerful; it must be from all that Pez.

The recent opening of the curiously named Grande Noodles and Sushi Bar is proof that Chicago's sushi craze is out of control (um, as if we needed more proof). Rogers Park should be the last place we'd expect to find a trendy sushi spot, yet there it sits on the corner of Clark and Wallen in all of its IKEA-laden glory.

These folks definitely have done wonders with a space that once housed a nondescript Vietnamese restaurant; now, the place sports bright lavender and orange walls, smart (albeit familiarly Swedish) artwork and a sushi bar along the wall. Servers are friendly and accommodating, and the food (most entrees priced between $5.95 and $7.95) was delivered quickly to our table -- quite impressive for only being open two months.

Despite the Latin sounding name, Grande serves both Thai and Japanese cuisines, allowing for a plethora of options to confuse the indecisive diner. Right off the bat, we were thrilled with our starters -- tasty steamed potstickers stuffed with chicken and a citrusy tom yum soup made with so much hot pepper flakes and tangy lime juice that our eyes were spilling over with tears.

Sushi options were also excellent. I sampled a fresh spicy tuna maki ($4.50) and an even better spider maki ($6.95) loaded with unagi, avocado, cucumber, masago and huge pieces of fried soft shell crab. On my next visit I plan to try one of Grande's more original options, perhaps the sweet potato maki with sweet potato tempura, cream cheese, wasabi mayo and unagi sauce.

Admittedly, the meal took a turn for the worse when the cashew chicken entree was delivered to the table. On first glance, this dish appeared to be the usual mixture of stir-fried chicken, vegetables, and cashews; however, on closer inspection the chunks of chicken were battered and had an unappetizing gray color. To make matters worse, the sauce was thick, clear and had a weird salty taste -- I found eating more than a few bites to be unbearable. The drunken noodles with wide rice noodles and veggies was better, but my stomach still turned every time I though of the cashew chicken. I'd go back to Grande, but I'm only ordering from the Japanese side of the menu.

And so, the final verdict: If you are craving straight-up Thai food and platefuls of noodles, I'd recommend making a date for Cozy. Grande, it seems, needs a little more time to perfect their noodle dishes, but until then their sushi will be enough to hold you over.

Cozy Noodles and Rice is located at 3456 N. Sheffield (Wrigleyville). Visit them online at cozychicago.com.

Grande Noodles & Sushi Bar is located at 6632 N. Clark St. (Rogers Park). Visit them online at grandenoodles.com.

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Comments

Naz / July 26, 2004 10:28 AM

Not the biggest fan of Cozy's but it'll do in a pinch. Mostly because some of the dishes lack real good flavour and some of that Thai authenticity. Having had real Thai abroad, I can say that only as far as cheap noodle eats go, Joy's Noodles/Noodles in the Pot are the two of the best places in this city.

My other concern is with these 'fusion' asian restaurants that are all over the place. I very very very rarely will step into a restaurant if it serves more than one type of asian cuisine. The whole let's serve Chinese/Japanese/Thai thing bugs me and out of the three times that I've done to such places, have disappointed me by far. If you're going to have a restaurant, do one thing (or in this case, one cuisine) and do it right, do it damn good.

Gordon / July 26, 2004 9:15 PM

For some reason, I suddenly want to see Tampopo again.

 

About the Author(s)

Kim Conte loves to write and eat, and dreams that one day someone will pay her a lot to do both.

If you feel the need to get in touch with her directly, instead of using the comments below, do so at .

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