A Meal with a Purpose
Finding a good, quick meal before the theater is challenging. I want to eat something that’s not too heavy or I’m liable to fall asleep during the darkness of the performance. I also want to be close to the theater so I don’t spend half the evening in transit, and I never know whether I’ll have to make a mad dash to the theater because dinner took too long. It was the need for a good, quick pre-theater dinner in Lincoln Park that brought my sister, a friend and me to a BYOB Vietnamese restaurant called Simply It.
Simply It occupies two store fronts on a part of busy Lincoln Avenue thick with bars and pubs. Its non-descript rooms are bright white and well lit, all the better to see the non-descript room densely packed with tables. When we arrived at 6:30, the place was already crowded, which I took to be an indication of the quality of the food, but I fear it was instead an indication of the popularity of the neighborhood. In spite of the lack of ambiance, I was optimistic about the meal. After all, the menu claimed connection to Pasteur, one of Chicago’s better known Vietnamese restaurants, we were seated at one of the nicer tables by the windows, and very important at a BYOB, our wine was opened right away.
It was time to order. Simply Its menu is extensive, too extensive in my opinion. Faced with such a huge number of choices, I am usually stymied. Fortunately, between the three of us, we made some decisions and flagged down a waitress. We started with the chicken puffs. My friend Pam is on a quest to find puffs similar to the ones we had at a restaurant in a dusty little town in Cambodia. She is pursued by visions of these puffs and periodically orders something that she hopes will recreate that experience. I remember that restaurant as well, but unfortunately, all I remember is the lack of Western style bathrooms and the restaurant owner’s dog staring at me from his perch atop a nearby, thankfully unoccupied, dining table.
The chicken puff was lightly crispy on the outside, and though the filling was a little hum-drum, when dipped in the plum and chili dipping sauces, you end up with a good combination of flavors. Though nothing like the famous cambodian puffs, these were not bad. We then moved on to the shrimp and papaya salad. The flavor was good but the green papaya lacked the tender crunchiness that I look for in a good green papaya salad.
Our two entrees were Clay Pot Chicken and Simply It Special Noodles. Both dishes were fine, unfortunately, ‘fine’ is not what I’m looking for in a restaurant. The veggie burger I make at home when I don’t feel like cooking is ‘fine’. The Clay Pot Chicken was described on the menu as simmered with ginger and caramelized sauce in a clay pot. I typically love anything that is cooked in a clay pot; the pot usually gives the dish a little added something. But in this case it didn’t seem that the clay pot was used for anything but serving the dish and there was no caramelization to be found. The noodle dish was also ‘fine’. I would assume when a restaurant has a signature dish, Simply It Special Noodles, the dish should be special. This dish was simply not.
Should I Stay (Home) or Should I Go?
Simply It Restaurant is ‘fine’. Yes, they are BYOB and don’t charge a corkage fee. And they’re quick; we made it to the theater on time, but their food, service and ambiance are uninspiring. Chicago has so many other great BYOB restaurants to choose from, give one of those a try.
Simply It is located at 2269 N. Lincoln in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.