The Turf Room (Aurora, IL)

As our vacation drive to Minnesota continued, we headed across western Ohio, Indiana (with stops at both Bare Hands Brewery and the Indiana Dunes State Park) and southeastern Illinois, ending up meeting up with some of our Chicago-area friends for drinks at Brother Chimp Brewing with dinner following at The Turf Room.

Being mid-June for this dinner, most of us were only about a month or so into our full, and one of our hosts, Jami, was even celebrating a birthday, so this was a good reason to just get together and enjoy what has been a rarity for most of us, a nice dinner outing with friends, good food, beer, and cocktails. The Turf Room was a great venue for this: an “American Eclectic” restaurant focusing on steaks and seafood. Basically, a higher-end steak house with a wider menu. The Turf Room is huge, with a large bar, two very large dining rooms, and a slightly odd large group room in the back than can be partitioned into smaller dining areas with curtains. After settling in, and dealing with the online menu (apparently an Illinois requirement limiting printed menus), we ordered up cocktails as we perused the menu.

The Turf Room has a pretty wide cocktail list, and while most of it is standard cocktails, there are a few inventive items on the list: I ended up going for the “Comfortably Numb”, with Szechuan peppercorns, Hendricks gin, St Germaine, Gran Gala, lemon juice, and white grape juice. The result was pleasant: a combination of nice fruit notes (orange, grape, and elderflower), a nicer herbal note from the gin, and a nice closing not from the peppercorns, this was a pleasant cocktail after a long day of driving.

Moving on into the appetizers, we had originally wanted calamari (previous visits by our hosts had really liked it), but they were out that evening. Instead, our party ordered an assortment of items including Monte Cristo croquettes, duck potstickers, and Korean duck wings, and the last of these was one of the favorites at our end of the table: nicely crisped up but not overly greasy duck wings (often deep-frying duck results in a lot of grease; they managed this well), coated with a bold Korean sauce that was spicy but didn’t completely bury the duck, I enjoyed these.

The main attraction for most of our dining party was getting steaks (well, it is the Turf Room), with several people opting for the American Wagyy (a few opted for the imported Japanese Wagyu as an upgrade, too). A Nebraska-raised Wagyu filet, this was a well-marbled, tender filet served with grilled asparagus, romesco, and lemon oil. I’m very particular with good steaks not being overcooked (and occasionally will even order rare to avoid overcooking), but The Turf Room did a perfect medium rare for me: a good sear, a nice, under-1/4″ outer layer, and an interior that was just starting to turn pink and soften. A great dish, and one of the best steaks I’ve had in the last year.

Carol opted for what had been my second choice: the “Honolulu Tuna”, a wasabi-crusted tuna with basil aioli, edamame, and black rice. Like our steaks, Carol and I both like it when tuna isn’t overcooked: here it was a perfectly-seared filet of tuna with a nice, thin seared border with a light horseradish tang to it. The center remained nicely red and tender. The black rice added a nice starch bed, and the aioli and edamame added some tang and texture while continuing to focus on the tuna itself. Again, a solid entree

Those that regularly dine with me know a few things about me and dessert. First, that unless something looks particularly good, I usually skip dessert, I’m just not usually up for a bunch of sugar and chocolate after a big meal. But I do have a particular weakness, I adore a good, properly-made crème brûlée. Rich-but-not cloying cream, a light bit of vanilla flavor, and, most importantly, a well-crisped sugar top. If there’s one dessert I can almost never resist, that’s it. So when we noticed it on the dessert menu, I changed my selection from “no dessert, thanks” to “Oh, yes, Carol and I will share the Crème Brûlée”. And we were happy with the result at The Turf Room: A good proper sugar top with a nice crack, a firm but smooth custard with some nice vanilla and caramel notes, and a few nice almond cookies to round it out. A satisfying end to a good dinner.

We really enjoyed our outing. It was our first real “dinner outing” with friends at a good restaurant in over a year, and while a few vestiges of the Covid-19 era remained, it was a nice return to “normal”. And thanks to our hosts David and Jami for setting this up (and David picked up the check this time… thanks for that!).

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