As any of you with a young family will attest, it is truly a rare occasion when the planets align with the stars and moon to offer an evening window for a simple old-fashioned date, free of chicken tenders, plastic kid’s cups, broken crayons and other unexpected outbursts of fatigue-induced pint-size drama. Simply put, date nights for husbands and wives make us much better moms and dads.
With the Labor Day Weekend in full “Fling”, one such opportunity presented itself last evening. Now your first assumption would be that we headed into Downtown Naperville for Last Fling, right?…BZZZZZZ… wrong! While it was a tempting thought to walk along hand-in-hand amidst the twinkling lights of carnival midway and smell of powder-smothered funnel cakes riding upon the gentle September breeze, we opted to go a different direction all together in branching out to try somewhere entirely new… well at least new to us.
As you may recall, we moved to South Naperville last year and its now easy to understand the geographic divide between North and South given the route and commute times. Nonetheless, the movie we wanted to see, 500 Days of Summer, was at AMC Cantera so we decided to head somewhere on the Northeast side of Naperville. The choice was easy as I’d been wanting to go to Joy Yee’s Noodles, well, for about 4 years now.
Located in Iroquois Center just west of Naper Blvd, Joy Yee’s Noodles lives up to its authentic pan-asian experience which I first learned about from WTTTW’ Check Please program ( click here to see the WTTW Check, Please video on Joy Yee’s location in Chinatown). We headed over about 6:30 PM thinking that it would be a quiet Sunday evening. To the contrary, as we pulled up we saw a crowd out front carefully examining over-sized menus. Had the kids been in tow, we may have kept driving… but hey, this was date night and the world was our oyster… if only for a couple of hours.
Speaking of “pearls”, I will confess that I love fresh fruit smoothie/freeze drinks loaded with those large black tapioca pearls and completed with one extra-wide straw. At Joy Yee’s, these drinks are a main event as the first thing you see when you walk in is the the wall of fresh fruits and the drink assembly station. Though the place was packed, we were warmly greeted by the host and a bit surprised when he said the wait would be around 10 minutes. He was right and soon we were seated among the sea of tapioca fruit freeze slurping humanity.
The place was crowded and tables were packed close together, but I really liked this fact as it added to the charm of walking into the door of a Naperville restaurant that truly transports you to Chinatown. Even more, the closer you are seated to others, the easier it is to quickly eyeball the dishes being served up as the commitment-averse should beware, Joy Yee’s menu is a bit mind-boggling with its wide assortment Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese and a touch of Chineese culinary offerings.
We started with, of course, a couple of fruit freeze drinks. Mine was Strawberry and Lychee with a nice gob of tapioca pearls and my wife’s a Mango and Lychee minus the gelatinous chewy wonders. My wife spent a number of weeks in China when she was in high school, which is where she developed a fond affection for the exotic tree-fruit lychee. Perhaps the best part is that Joy Yee not only offers quality and selection when it comes to the “bubble” fruit freezes, but their prices in the $3.50 – $4.o0 range is great. This should be a lesson to the other Asian restaurants in town that offer the same tapioca fruit smoothie drinks for $5.00 and up… and you know who you are.
As we emerged from our disoriented menu-scanning haze, we were actually more confused than when we first opened the epic volume. Knowing that we wanted to try a dish that we had never eaten before, we went with our gut instinct which was telling us a relentless blast of hunger was closing in on us, which drove us back to the first thing that caught our eye. For me, it was the Spicy Korean Pork served on a hot plate and for my wife… well, it was a pot full of rice, beef, cabbage, hot sauce, onions and fried egg on top. Both dishes were absolutely delicious and only got better as the flavors continued to combine before our eyes once the food reached the table.
One word of caution, the innocent benign-looking slivers of dark green peppers hanging out on the spicy pork hot plate like a peaceful Friday night at the “Gas-n-Sip” are, in fact, sleeping volcanic daggers of tongue-numbing, head-melting shock waves which burn slowly through your mouth up to the top of your head like a slow-burning explosives fuse. Once the cute little pepper has you in its merciless clutches, your only choice is to ride out its fury and hope the table next to you doesn’t spot the shower of sweat cascading off your sizzling forehead.
Despite my lapse in judgment as the other peppers on the plate mocked my foolishness for eating their little green cousin, the meal was absolutely delightful leaving us in antipation of our next trip to Joy Yee’s. The good news continued when we received our bill, which was under $30… including our towering fresh fruit freezes. A great all-around culinary and cultural experience, which left me lamenting the fact it has taken so long to check out Joy Yee’s.
Upon emerging from the bright and colorful strip mall space into the crisp moonlit breeze, our only thought was to make the walk to our car as long as possible to “burn” a few minutes as we were still early for our movie time. Two doors down from Joy Yee’s, we discovered another unexpectedly delightful experience in Tutto Dolce Gelato. I mentioned to my wife that it might be nice to have something to cleanse the pallet as she said, “what, the giant fruit freeze wasn’t enough?”. A point well taken, but still we had time to kill and I love checking out new Naperville spots.
Now I’ve had gelato locally and in Europe which leaves me a bit spoiled, but Tutto Dolce really impressed me in its quality and variety. The other factor that really impressed me was the service as the owner was more than happy to patiently serve as our host in providing samples from one end of the freezer case to the other. We talked about the gelato-making process and the fact his humble-yet-affordable strip mall location enables him to spend more money on quality ingredients. You can see the passion and creativity in Tutto Dolce, which we were told has been around a for a while, but recently changed ownership.
If you aren’t familiar with gelato, allow me to give you two great reasons to give it a try. First, it’s less fattening than regular ice cream or custard and, second, it is smoother, creamier and more flavorful in my estimation. While we were told that Blood Orange is their best-seller, my heart found its home with the Chocolate Orange. It’s almost like eating the chilled center of a chocolate truffle with a touch of orange citrus. Is there a better combination? Tutto Dolce has one full case of fruit-based gelatos and another entirely consisting of new spins on familiar favorites, such as French Vanilla, Coffee, Chocolate and Banana. For these reasons and more, I can only rave about Tutto Dolce and will be back very very soon. This is a gem which is deserving of our local support and enjoyment.
The evening would have been a wonderful success even if it had ended there, but we proceeded to Cantera and really enjoyed 500 Days of Summer… a great date movie which can be truly enjoyed by those of us who are much further down life’s path than the film’s characters, but at the same time remember the trials and tribulations of finding and falling in love. In a way, a special date night like this one is almost like falling in love all over again as we pause to cherish and reminisce about the past and look toward the future. All too soon, we were pulling our carriage back into the garage as it returned to the more familiar form the family car, complete with booster seats, matchbox cars and coloring books in the backseat. SM