The began major renovations in May, revamping the guest rooms and event space. That spirit of change has extended to the hotel’s restaurant, Rook's Corner, which launched a new menu worth checking out even if you’re not staying the night.
Located at 933 Skokie Blvd., Rook's Corner has been open since 2001. The small dining room features patterned gold, black and gray booths and wooden chairs topped with bright red, green and yellow cushions. Abstract shapes in primary colors hang from the ceiling. A pair of flat screen TVs is tuned to sports, and the walls are decorated with dining-themed 3D art featuring plates, silverware and materials resembling food.
The dining room was very quiet when we ate around 7:30 p.m. Thursday. We were the only ones in the place when we came in, with a few solo diners trickling in over the course of our meal. The lounge was busier, with some exuberant basketball fans cheering throughout the game.
Part of the menu renovations included overhauling the drink list, adding more wines by the glass, a cocktail list with novel takes on classic drinks and a selection of craft brews ($5.50), including seasonal selections from Bell’s and Goose Island. Our server wasn’t 21, so couldn’t offer suggestions on the drink menu, but did say people seem to like the Cuban Society ($9), which I’d been eyeing. It proved to be an excellent mojito blended with plenty of fresh raspberries.
The restaurant offers affordable comfort food with a twist, whether it’s unusual ingredients or presentations. We started with an order of sweet potato fries and onion rings ($6), which features a huge pile of thin-sliced, crisp fries piled over a metal rod covered with onion rings in a way that resembles a children’s toy. The sweet-battered rings are stacked with small ones at the top and very large pieces at the bottom. The fries were great on their own, but also worked very well with the red pepper ketchup, which offered a kick reminiscent of cocktail sauce. The appetizer was so big we wound up taking much of the fries home.
The best thing we tried was the bleu cheese and wild mushroom burger ($10). The perfectly cooked burger was piled with Gorgonzola that melted from the heat of the patty and blended beautifully with the savory mushrooms. The thick cut fries that came with it made for a solid side.
I was torn between the butternut squash ravioli ($12) and the ying yang salad ($10). Our server said that both were good but that the salad was her favorite and one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. The plate is nicely presented, with a pile of mixed greens blended with tomato, snow peas, shredded carrots and large chunks of cucumber topped with plenty of grilled chicken, crispy wontons and green onions. Unfortunately, when I dug in, I found my chicken to be a bit undercooked, with a few of the strips on the pink side, chewy and cool. I can’t remember the last time I sent something back, but I don’t like to mess around with chicken, so I pointed it out to our server, who immediately offered to bring me out a new plate or a different dish if I preferred. I gave the salad a second shot and was pleased with the result. The meat came back tender and warm and blended well with the excellent sesame-ginger vinaigrette. Again, the portion was so big that I left some behind, but I made sure to devour all the perfectly crisp snow peas.
A cooking misstep can happen anywhere and I don’t hold it against Rook's Corner. In fact, it showed off the restaurant’s desire to do right by its customers. My new dish came out quickly, and multiple employees apologized and came to check in to make sure the second attempt was to my liking. I was surprised when I got the bill to find I hadn’t been charged for my salad at all, a step that really goes above and beyond what I would have expected. Even if I had paid full cost I would have felt I’d gotten a good value for my money and left satisfied by the quality of the food and substantial portions. The goal of the menu overhaul was to expand the restaurant’s draw beyond hotel guests, and I think it deserves to succeed.