Usually, whenever we have an adult milestone to celebrate (in this case, Mrs. Hackknife's birthday), we opt to go out for a nice dinner in lieu of presents (of course, the Hackknife progeny still need to produce an actual gift for the occasion, further complicating the situation for me as they don't drive yet and have no credit cards). This year, she chose Japonais, a trendy, sushi/French-Asian fusion restaurant located in River North downtown that neither one of us had been to.
Having left the commissary early in anticipation of heavy Sat. night traffic into the Loop, we arrived about 30 minutes ahead of schedule, which ended up getting us sequestered in the lounge downstairs while waiting for our table. After overpriced drinks hanging out with the younger bar crowd (conversation overheard at our table - Mrs. Hackknife: "Everyone looks so juvenile", me: "Well, given our age now, I think the clientele at anyplace trendy that we go is going to look juvenile to us"), we were ushered back upstairs to our small table in the crowded, loud, and fashionably-decorated dining room (the couple seated next to us was pretty much in our laps - more on that later). The menu was somewhat complicated to navigate - sushi and rolls in one place, cold/hot appetizers in another, two sets of entrees, and a specials sheet to boot, but we settled on what they called an "unagi trio" (avocado and unagi roll topped with baked unagi and sweet unagi sauce) and "kani kani" (snow crab claws wrapped in shrimp/crab mousse with spicy passionfruit glaze) for our starters. The unagi roll (cooked eel for the uninitiated) was good, but not great, as was the kani kani, disappointing at the trendy downtown prices.
Our entrees fared a little better - I had "Le Quack Japonais" (maple-leaf smoked duck with hoisin sauce, mango chutney, shredded cucumber, and mushu wraps), while Mrs. Hackknife enjoyed lobster teriyaki. Given the size of my plate (half a duck), I was surprised that I was able to polish it off without suffering any unpleasant after-effects (other than massive dehydration the next morning, which could have easily been caused by the 3 glasses of wine I had during the evening). Dessert included the Chicago Magazine-recommended "Coffee and Doughnuts" (green tea semi-freddo w/warm chocolate and chestnut-filled beignets) and a chocolate marscapone mousse cake with coconut ice cream, both of which were, again, just ok for the price.
We ended up finishing the meal at about the same time as the couple next to us, at which point we struck up a conversation with them about how we all probably didn't enjoy the experience enough to come back. Further discussion revealed that they 1) lived in the suburbs and frequently traveled to the city to try different restaurants (like us), 2) they are former city dwellers (like us), 3) they have two kids, with the husband having been a stay-at-home parent for a while (like us), 4) the wife works in the insurance industry (like us), and the best part 5) they are named Jeff and Karen (like us). The whole encounter was really quite strange and made me wonder if I hadn't perhaps enjoyed a little too much duck and wine that night.....