NORTH AURORA – The Turf Room IS the destination.
It’s not a pullover point for a quick bite between activities or a drive-by dining experience you try to squeeze into an hour before going someplace else.
You come, you sit, you stay – and for as long as you like.
The romantic atmosphere, extensive beer, wine and liquor list accompanied by beautifully-plated, colorful, eclectic American dishes create a safe haven for the stomachs of foodies and fine diners. No matter what you order here, chances are it’s going to be good.
As Turf-Room virgins, my dining companions and I made the cardinal mistake of squeezing a reservation in at 6 p.m. on a Friday night before having to head to an 8 p.m. showing of Paramount Theatre’s “The Music Man.”
We arrived around 5:30 p.m. to an already nearly-packed vicinity. Arriving early allowed the four of us to take advantage of the lounge area set with votive-topped, knee-height block tables sectioned off by groupings of leather couches and chairs that surrounded a thick stone fireplace. With the cold spell we’ve been experiencing, it’s not a bad place to warm up.
My dining companions and I ordered a couple drinks to enjoy by the comfort of the fire before we were whisked away to our table.
As we walked through the monstrosity of a restaurant, a timeworn race-track theme grew more evident. Candlesticks, gas-lit lanterns and blown-up horse-related news articles adorning wood-paneled walls gave the interior an old-timey, yet sophisticated feel.
Saddles doubled as wall-art and thick protruding layered stone walls broke up the wood paneling.
We turned a corner near a walk-in wine cellar and ducked behind a red-velvet curtain to a seemingly clandestine room noticeably quieter and equally enticing. We were seated at a four-top in what is known as the Wine Bar.
According to the Turf Room website, the wine bar features flights of wine and an additional 20 wines by the glass. It also has a special tapas menu (wine bar only) that offers small plates to compliment the wine.
You also have full range of the restaurant’s menu.
In addition to the wine bar seating area, there are three dining rooms, a lounge and track room to tickle a foodie’s fancy.
An eye-catching column on the menu – which resembled a newspaper – featured the Happy Day Beer and Wine specials for $4. Each weekday a different beer and wine varietal is featured. For example, Thursdays showcase The Black Magic brew and a glass of Cameron Hughes Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley, Calif. Happy-hour appetizers such as the Margarita Flatbread are also included for $4 from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. during the week.
We ordered the recommended Roman Shrimp and Artichoke Potstickers ($10.95) to start. Atop a neatly splayed line of sundried tomato coulis and lemon basil sour cream, were five sauteed-shrimp-, marinated-artichoke-, scallion-, Parmesan- and ricotta-filled potstickers.
Before our potstickers arrived, diners received a small sampling – complements of the chef – of cucumbers, blue cheese and a beet puree (meant to be mixed together) to be spread atop a slice of warm bread. The complementary dish served as a delicious surprise and gave us an inkling for what we could expect from the meal ahead.
The soups are normally specially made and changed out often, so I went with a menu-staple – a cup of Lobster Bisque ($5.95). Delicate, creamy and rich, the bisque also came with a triangle wedge of toasted bread to incorporate a little crunch. The excess bread still taking refuge in the basket made great morsels for dipping.
For my main course, I ordered spinach- and cheese-filled tomato Tortellini ($15.95) with chicken breast in creamy pesto sauce and topped with a goat-cheese cap. Yet another rich dish, but one of the best pesto pastas I’ve had the privilege to enjoy.
Another dining companion ordered the Filo Chicken ($16.95) entree – a pastry-wrapped grouping of balsamic marinated chicken, bacon, scallion, water chestnut, honey-sticky rice and spinach over roasted red pepper mashed potato in an almond-dusted balsamic vinaigrette sauce. A seemingly random queue of ingredients elicited a “10” (on a one to 10 scale) from the fussy foodie who joined our ranks that evening.
Another dining companion ordered the Salmon ($19.95). The herb-crusted salmon sat atop a layering of green beans, spinach, squash, portabella mushroom, mashed potato, roasted red pepper and a caper shallot beurre blanc.
My final dining companion, with a verve for spiciness, ordered the Jumbalaya ($14.95). A pasta dish that proved delicious but packed a powerful punch, and rendered my companion too overtaken by its fiery flavors to finish.
Throughout dinner, fork-fulls of food flew across the table skimming each plate before finding its rightful home – my mouth.
I tried everything that night, and as I suspected EVERYTHING tasted great.
My experience at the Turf Room reminded me of what it feels like to be living in a city that serves some of the best food in the world. And better yet, that you don’t even have to go that far to get it.
• The Mystery Diner is an employee at the Kane County Chronicle. The diner’s identity is not revealed. The diner visits different restaurants and then reports on the experience.