Saturday, March 20, 2010

Online Restaurant Column: 94 West goes far out

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Online Restaurant Column: 94 West goes far out
By Ray Hanania
When I was a kid, my parents took me to a restaurant where they served sour-tasting little green pasta, we called “squiggles.”

I never knew the name of the place, but it was on the Southwest Side. Hey. To a kid, green squiggles were great. Of course, my parents tried to make me eat the spinach, sour kraut and meats, but who listened to their parents.

About a week ago, I happened to finally get around to visit a new restaurant that opened in Orland Park called “94 West.” Orland has a wealth of new restaurants and I’m not sure I’ll actually get around to eating at all of them in this lifetime.

But what attracted to me to 94 West, first, was a large white fountain with a statue in its open courtyard that was surrounded by tall palm trees. Yeah. Palm trees. Real ones. Rustling in the Fall air. I wondered, how long will those trees last, but then figured, what a gimmick.

Well, the Palm Trees are stored for the winter and will be back up in the spring, but when I sat down with my wife, the first thing the waitress brought out was a small dish of little green sour-tasting pasta. Squiggles.

Turns out that the COO of 94 West, Bryan Sord, is the son of the man who owned the restaurant my parents used to dine at where I splurged on green squiggles as a child.

The restaurant was called the Candlelight Lodge and it was located at 55th and Spaulding. Johnny Sord and his wife, Mary, ran the place with the help of their own kids, Wayne, Alan, Susan and Bryan, for years and the “Green Noodles” were famous and popular even with adults.

John Sord died in 1999 and his wife, Mary, closed the restaurant. After her death, Bryan decided he’d open his own place, give it a new name but offer the same kind of service, great food and Green Noodles.

Okay. I’ve outgrown my limited childhood diet and try to eat other things like steak, lobster, fine soups and even asparagus, too. And I have to say that if great food was the reason my dad went to the Candlelight
Lodge back in the 60s, it’s definitely a place he’d be headed today.

I don’t know what their secret is, but the steaks were the best I’ve had in years. My wife ordered hers rare – which is too bloody for even an Arab like me – and I ordered mine medium well. We both agreed they melted in our mouths. Not tough at all. Easy to cut and great tasting.

Sord says he broils them at extremely high temperatures “to seal in the flavor” but I think he does more and doesn’t want to tell.

We started off with the spicy unbreaded Calamari, the way real Italians prefer, and dug into a combo special of steak, lobster and crab legs.

The menu has all kinds of shrimp appetizers, Escargot, Ahi Tuna, and the main menu features steaks of all kinds from Filet Mignon to Rib Eye, New York Strip and Porterhouse for two.

It’s a little pricey, as good food goes. The lowest is $26 for a petit filet and the Porterhouse for Two is $65. But I have spent less and gotten worse. And as my mom always said, if you are going to spend your money, you might as well enjoy it.

And you will enjoy this meal, no matter what you select.

It has chops. Seafood and an assortment of soups and salads, with vegetable and potatoes on the side.

But the big deal was the dessert finale.

Sord insisted I try their specialty, the “Chocolate Lava Explosion.” What can I say. I’m Arab. It appealed to me right away. And when they brought out the chocolate iced cake, ince cream and strawberry sauces, it was sizzling hot and the best dessert I’ve ever eaten.

The dessert menu includes other choices, too. Tiramisu, carrot cake and all kinds of cheese cakes (Pumpkin Pie cheesecake, New York style cheesecake and Chocolate Mousse cheesecake), and the usual fare of fresh fruits, strawberries and nuts.

I wouldn’t call the dining room Spartan, but it is simple and has class. It’s not cluttered. It’s very clean and the wait-staff is not only efficient and pleasant, but they’ll walk you through the menus and their assortment of California and some French wines.

Check it on the weekend with a reservation if you want to impress your date, or your wife. But they have a great lunch menu and also a Sunday Brunch from 10 until 3.

They even have a kids menu, something that when I was a kid, no one thought to offer.

And, of course, scoop up those Green Noodles.

They’re great.

The Scoop:

94 West Steak and Seafood
15410 S. 94th Avenue, Orland Park
708-364-9494 for reservations

Ample parking
Dress casual to fine


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