Things that are difficult to find in Chicago: Street parking. Ketchup. A trashcan for that empty coffee cup you’ve been carrying down Division for 15 minutes.
It’s also really hard to find The Coach House. This tasting menu restaurant is hidden in the courtyard behind Wazwan in Wicker Park, the chef's more casual spot where you won't need a reservation. And while trash cans are pretty great, they’re not special—you’re probably not going to text your friends to let them know you’re no longer beholden to a Starbucks cup. But The Coach House is. It’s the city's only South and Southeast Asian tasting menu restaurant, and is making unforgettable dishes you can’t find anywhere else in Chicago.
The Coach House is BYOB, and serves a $150, eight-course fine dining menu Thursday through Saturday, with two seatings a night. And while we can’t (with a straight face) call any meal that costs $150 casual, dinner here is informal. It also feels personal—there are only 22 seats, and the chef is right there behind the counter talking about each course like you’re in his home.
If you’ve been to Coach House’s sister restaurant Wazwan, you’ll notice nods between the two menus, like how Stephen King references characters from the Castle Rock universe in his novels. Your meal will start out with one of our favorite Wazwan dishes: kulcha topped with shaved truffles. But at The Coach House the flatbread is like a fingerpainting canvas, plated alongside an artful swipe of compound date butter topped with honeycomb and achaar. One course consists of a singular momo, filled with crab and sitting in umami-packed black garlic and kulambu broth. It looks so innocent in its bowl, alone and vulnerable, but will suck you into a savory black hole that you’ll never want to escape. A bowl of fara will pull you out of the momo’s trance: The chewy dumplings are earthy and sweet, swimming in a clarified beet butter sauce, topped with truffle and shiitake mushroom.
Every dish comes with a backstory, so you’ll discover that the fara is an homage to a street-food-loving uncle who always knew where to find the best chaat stands in India. Or that the chef learned to cook in a French restaurant, and that’s why the chili-crusted scallops are so buttery and tender. And how the duck Numidian was inspired by a cookbook titled “174 Recipes of Medieval Islam” that the chef read during quarantine. Apparently, Muslims were cooking delicious duck in Medieval times.
And while a meal here is expensive, it’s also relaxed. You'll be eating to a chill playlist filled with South Asian pop and hip-hop, and because it’s BYOB, there are no price-hiked wines and you know exactly what your bill will be before visiting. But if you’re used to tasting menu operations having the precision of a Swiss watch, you might be a little thrown off by The Coach House. Timing between courses can run a little long, and attention to detail–specifically plating and cutlery—is lacking. After attempting to saw a giant shiitake in half with our spoon, we resorted to swallowing it like a dolphin at SeaWorld. That mushroom was delicious.
You might find yourself at a tasting menu restaurant looking for a luxury experience, or because the last time you tried molecular gastronomy at home, you freeze-dried your favorite succulent. That’s not why you come to The Coach House. You’re here for a meal full of dishes you’ll never want to forget, and the story behind each course. Oh, and the in-house spice mix, which you'll receive as a parting gift. All that’s pretty special.
Courses at The Coach House change regularly, but here is an example of what you might find.
Did you know that ripping off a piece of The Coach House’s paneer-filled kulcha and swiping it through compound date butter then shoving it in your mouth is one of life’s greatest pleasures? Well, now you do.
We appreciated the flavors of the roll of seabass sitting in a Oolong tea broth, but would have enjoyed the delicate flavor of the fish topped with pickled chillies if it were more tender. Yes, it’s nit-picky, but it’s also an expensive meal.
Along with burping during a first kiss, this is something you'll remember forever. The delightfully firm momo is filled with sweet crab, and sitting in a salty black garlic broth with a hint of tamarind.
We’re still recovering from the one-two-punch of the momo being followed by these chewy dumplings. The fara are made with a mixture of rice and beet powder, are sitting in a sauce made from clarified beet butter,
Our editor will roll their eyes, but we’re going to go ahead and describe the scallop as unctuous. It’s so tender it jiggled when we shook our plate (because that’s something we did), crusted with chili that gives it a spicy kick, and served with melted leeks and a silky carrot puree infused with ginger and sesame.
The buttery sable has crispy skin, and is topped with a spicy chettinad sauce, eggplant and crispy shallots.
Do you know how hard it is to find halal duck? The chef does, because he told us he had to source it from Canada. The confit duck leg is served alongside red rice khichdi, pine nuts, and dates that add some sweetness. It’s a perfect bit of salty, fat, and sweet.
The ube ice cream is smooth and refreshing, but the ube jalebi was a little tough. But once it softened in the saffron syrup it became a wonderfully sweet way to end the meal.