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Fourteen New Restaurants 

Public House, Big Stuff, the southwestern Abiquiu Cafe, and more

Public House

Public House

Andrea Bauer

Abiquiu Cafe

1034 W. Belmont | 773-577-3917

$$

MEXICAN/SOUTHWESTERN | DINNER: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | sunday brunch | closed monday | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11 | BYO

A restaurant dedicated to the highly specialized southwestern variant of New Mexican food—most commonly identified by dishes blanketed in red or green roasted chile sauce—is a noble venture. This Lakeview spot unfortunately executes it with uneven results, though the house-roasted red and green New Mexican chiles that form the foundation of the cuisine offer a good start. That's particularly true of the almost soupy green chile (available vegetarian or porky), which has a nice depth of flavor, and the brick-red variety carries admirable heat, particularly as it drenches a cheesy plate of chicken enchiladas or small order of pan-seared corn cakes. Nearly every entree and appetizer is meant to be smothered with these sauces, which will rapidly decrease the life span of the fat chile rellenos deep-fried in an eggy batter but lend themselves well to sturdier Oaxacan tamales. My greatest disappointment was a very appealing-sounding chile-topped cheeseburger that arrived overcharred and overcooked—mea culpa for not giving firm cooking instructions, but there's no excuse for the supermarket cottonball it comes on. Meals begin with a small basket of freshly deep-fried puff pastry triangles (sopaipillas) meant to be dipped in honey. These also can be ordered as an appetizer or entree, stuffed with picadillo or chicken and potatoes. Many dishes evidence a preponderance of cumin, and some should simply be avoided at all cost, such as an $18, laughably tiny scrap of overcooked skirt steak. —Mike Sula

Big Stuff

2312 N. Lincoln | 773-472-7795

$

PIZZA, AMERICAN | LUNCH, DINNER: monday-saturday | closed sunday | OPEN LATE: THURSDAY-SATURDAY TILL 3 OR 4 | BYO

I had big hopes for Big Stuff, the new DePaul-area neighborhood where the conceit—that'd be BIG STUFF—is refreshingly unambitious. The quick service and immodest portions suggest a good antidote to a night of collegiate drinking, but the less-inebriated will discover that beyond its tacky motto—"Bigger is always better"—Big Stuff is pretty, well, superlative. The flavor of slow-cooked pork cut cleanly through other elements—a not-too-sweet barbecue sauce and a smear of cole slaw—on the Jody Odie sandwich, served on a pretzel roll alongside a small (small!) ramekin of potato salad. Other sandwiches looked at least as good; we had a crunchy, nicely balanced BLT on toasted ciabatta. With its formidable pile of protein (beans, cheese, meat, avocado) atop spring mix, the Big Stuff Salad, heaped in a metal mixing bowl, would've satisfied a football player. The "big slice" of pepperoni pizza, a steal at $3, could've fed a family; a "bigger slice" is available for $5, but who knows what you'd do with it. Unfortunately the special pizzas aren't available by the slice, so in the interest of research we ordered an entire You Say Potato, a lovely melange of sliced tubers, pesto, and roasted garlic atop a thin, chewy crust. There were only two of us dining, and we asked for an embarrassing amount of food—a fact that didn't pass unobserved by anybody working that night—but we were pretty happy toting home what felt like 15 pounds of leftovers. They fed us through the weekend. —Sam Worley

Broken Plate Bar and Grill

2547 W. Lawrence | 773-878-6878

$$

GREEK, BAR/LOUNGE | BREAKFAST: FRIDAY-SATURDAY; LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 2, OTHER NIGHTS TILL MIDNIGHT

Run under the name Lefko Castro (somewhat unfortunately, "White Castle") for 25 years, Broken Plate Bar and Grill may boast freshly sponged burgundy walls and flat-screen TVs, but it still makes room for the relics: the lowered faces of the half dozen or so Greek men playing cards in the back, smelling faintly of cigarettes. The previous owner's nephew is now general manager, offering up staple specials like spanakopita and dolmades as well as sandwiches, salads, meats, and seafood via a menu that depicts flying (unbroken) plates of food alongside completely agreeable $4 glasses of Macedonikos wine. "American" specials stick out like sore thumbs: there's simply no need for buffalo wings or a burger. The real goodness is in the more authentic details: a pristinely white, fresh block of feta doused in olive oil and served with a couple of olives; juicy, cuminy homemade sausage sauteed in wine; a perky romaine starter salad. Dinners—a duo of toughish pork souvlaki and a well-spiced but also resilient pair of bifteki—need a bit more effort. Still, there were tasty length-cut roasted lemon potatoes with rice, fresh warm pita, and delightful homemade molamakarones cookies dusted with ground walnuts. —Izidora Angel

Caminito Argentinian Grill

1629 N. Halsted | 312-846-6911

$$$

LATIN AMERICAN, SOUTH AMERICAN, STEAKS/LOBSTEr  | DINNER: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED MONDAY | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11 | BYO

In true Argentine fashion, Caminito Argentinian Grill is no place for vegetarians—even the salads are off limits for non-meat eaters (yes, all of them). The sole meat- and seafood-free offerings are one type of empanada, a mixed vegetable appetizer, and two pizzas, plus the desserts—but then, the entire menu is relatively brief. In addition to the pizzas and appetizers there are a few house-made pastas, plus several fish, beef, and chicken dishes. Surprisingly few regular steaks are available—milanesas, or thin, breaded steaks, seem more popular here—and you'll have to order a full parrilla for two to get sweetbreads, chorizo, or blood sausage. It wouldn't surprise me if that parrilla could feed four or more; our chewy, flavorful flank steak, cooked perfectly medium rare, was easily big enough for three people. Not that we had much room for it after an assortment of crispy, light empanadas and an entree-size spinach salad with pancetta, Gorgonzola, tomatoes, and walnuts. The sole disappointment was mushy, fishy-tasting seafood gnocchi. But chef Mario Lobos, a young Argentine, noticed we hadn't touched it and came out to ask if he could make us another one; when we declined, he took the dish off our bill. Our server couldn't have been friendlier or more helpful, and the brightly colored subterranean room is cozy and welcoming. —Julia Thiel

DiSotto Enoteca

200 E. Chestnut | 312-482-8727

$$

ITALIAN, SMALL PLATES | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 2, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 1 | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

Scott Harris's quest for world domination proceeds apace with this snug wine bar in the basement below Francesca's on Clark. The menu of small bites, bruschetta, cheese, and charcuterie owes a great deal to Harris's Taylor Street hit Davanti Enoteca—so much so that one wonders if he's deliberately trying to dilute their brands. He's certainly not trying to reinvent the wheel with the minimally prepared plates, winningly with truffle egg toast—essentially Toad in Hole with a very slight truffle accent, and a supercreamy jar of ricotta you're meant to mix with a dollop of honeycomb. The charcuterie—at least the soppressata—is nothing special, but gets the job done. In any case it's not a bad little spot—dark with a vaulted brick ceilings—to work your way down the extensive wine list, with a few perfectly acceptable little bites. —Mike Sula

MC Bistro

1401 N. Ashland | 773-489-5600

$$

VIETNAMESE, BURGERS | LUNCH, DINNER: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED MONDAY | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11 | FULL LIQUOR SERVICE

This elongated corner shack doesn't look inviting, but veteran restaurateur Julie Mai (formerly of Uptown's Julie Mai's Le Bistro) has done her best to jazz up the inside of MC Restaurant & Lounge, with crimson walls framing the long bar and colorful photomurals of Vietnamese markets decorating lime-green walls. While menus on Argyle Street tend to be overwhelming, this one goes in the opposite direction: it's very limited and tailored to novices. Still, if you're in the hood and craving a bowl of pho, the hearty beef broth passes muster, with properly prepared rice noodles and a side plate of bean sprouts, hot green chiles, and Vietnamese basil to add; the menu lists beef or chicken, but you also can get meatballs, alone or in combination. —Anne Spiselman

Public House

400 N. State | 312-265-1240

$$$

BAR/LOUNGE, AMERICAN, BURGERS | LUNCH, DINNER; SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 2

The newest venture from the owners of the Bull & Bear features in-table taps for beer, like its sibling, but also adds a few for hard alcohol (only the booths have the taps, and they're by reservation only). Whether this feature strikes you as pure genius or largely unnecessary is probably a good indicator of whether you'll like the place. Prices aren't cheap, but not out of line with the rest of River North, where it's perfectly normal to pay $8 for an unremarkable pretzel with beer cheese "fondue" too thin for optimum dipping. Still, a single serving of mac 'n' cheese should never cost $30, even if it comes with nine toppings and one of them is lobster. We went with a less decadent version that included nicely caramelized onions ($9), and except for being undersalted (a condition easily remedied) it was pretty good. So was a wild mushroom flatbread with spinach, goat cheese, and plenty of slices of garlic. The beer list, with 25 varieties on tap and another 75-odd in bottles, is impressive; symbols on the menu provide helpful information on each beer—flavor, color, and the size of glass it comes in. Public House has even teamed up with Goose Island to make a house brew that changes on a monthly basis. —Julia Thiel

Red Lion Lincoln Square

4749 N. Rockwell | 773-654-1341

$$

ENGLISH/IRISH/SCOTTISH, BAR/LOUNGE | LUNCH: SATURDAY-SUNDAY; DINNER: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | closed monday | BYO

This partly related offshoot of the late Lincoln Park pub could be viewed as a relatively conservative answer to the Ampersands, the new clutch of faux English gastropubs that have lately sprouted up like mushrooms on bullpucky. There are no house-made charcuterie plates or locally sourced organic bangers, but there is bubble and squeak, Welsh rarebit, shepherd's pie, and Cornish pasties. There's certainly nothing wrong with the lightly crispy beer-battered cod, though the breast meat in the curried chicken salad (a desi Waldorf) was a bit too tough. A hearty but sweetish Guinness-stewed beef was done no favors paired with powdery mashed potatoes. Sandwiches and salads fill out a sizable menu for such a modest spot housing an adjoining art gallery. The liquor license is pending, and I hope for this so far very quiet pub's—and neighborhood's—sake it comes through soon. For now, it's BYO. —Mike Sula

Rewster's

3152 W. Diversey | 773-647-3432

$

COFFEE SHOP | MONDAY 6:30 AM-5 PM, TUESDAY-THURSDAY 6:30 AM-8 PM, FRIDAY 6:30 AM-3 PM, SATURDAY 9 AM-7 PM, SUNDAY 9 AM-5 PM | BYO | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

As the influx of MacBook-toting twenty- and early-thirty-somethings into Logan Square and Avondale continues, so too does the run of indie cafes. Rewster's is the neighborhood newest addition. "Funky" mismatched furniture and new-age soundtrack in place, the spot features a bit more of a sophisticated (and pricey) menu than your average coffee shop. Sandwiches are generally around the ten-dollar mark, with the welcome option of a half sandwich and soup for six bucks. The soup rotates weekly; we were lucky enough to sample an excellent, creamy portobello mushroom. Although my open-face vegetarian leek sandwich was bland and unwieldy, the rest of the table was more than satisfied with its sandwich choices, including homemade roast beef with smoked Gouda, sliced turkey with goat cheese and a butternut squash chutney, and a grilled cheese sweetened with honey butter. Pastries, some made in-house, were the highlight for me, led by a blueberry danish and chocolate croissant. —Kevin Warwick

Seadog Sushi Bar

1500 W. Division | 773-235-8100

$$

JAPANESE, ASIAN | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: TUESDAY-SATURDAY TILL MIDNIGHT, SUNDAY-MONDAY TILL 11 | BYO

This West Town outfit housed in a cozily narrow space delivers the standard sushi-bar lineup with appreciable execution. Panfried gyoza arrived flaky and crisp in a rich sauce that helped mask an unassuming vegetable and shrimp filling. A special of hamachi carpaccio delivered a cleaner taste and a more delicate balance. The surprise stunner on the plate was a small salad—a delicious simple mix of greens tossed in a light ginger dressing. If it's this classic Japanese taste you're after, stick to the nigiri and sushi. The fatty hamachi and namesake (fresh salmon) come as fresh as we've able to enjoy here in Chicago. The maki is similarly plain, with just the right amount of rice to carry but not overwhelm the ingredients. Aimed straight at our American taste buds, the heavier-handed part of the menu can be found right where expected, in the signature rolls section that's so often a blight on otherwise good menus. The Seadog Tower stacked thinly sliced rolls like a pyramid, combining asparagus tempura, smoked salmon, whitefish, and cheese for a creamy, saturated taste further confused by the ginger-yogurt dipping sauce. Mango, daikon, strawberry, and soft-shell crab achieved similar results in the Tango roll, which was served drowning in a sticky sweet-and-sour sauce. —Emily Withrow

Silom 12

1846-48 N. Milwaukee | 773-489-1212

$$

ASIAN, THAI | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11 | BYO

I'm not sure what this slick Thai spot's claims of authenticity are founded on. Most of the offerings on its extensive menu—described with spare, Alinea-like concision—don't seem much different from those at legions of Ameri-Thai restaurants. The pad thai is reliably treacly, thin red curry with chicken is one-dimensionally incendiary, and deep-fried spring rolls—one unceremoniously dolloped with watery crabmeat—practically beg to be forgotten. I certainly don't begrudge chefs the chance to westernize traditional cuisines, but some of the kitchen's experiments here go utterly awry: som tom is tossed not with raw shreds but papaya deep-fried like Durkee onions. Braised veal shank sits grayly in green curry in the "osso bucco." And something called "duck delight" turned out to be an unremarkable burnt rendering of the Chinese-American standby deep-fried pressed duck. There's also a dish called "Thai Coon." Attempts made to artfully plate this food on chinaware do little to improve it. —Mike Sula

694 Wine & Spirits

694 N. Milwaukee | 312-492-6620

$$

EUROPEAN, SMALL PLATES, BAR/LOUNGE | DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 2 | RESERVATIONS FOR LARGE GROUPS ONLY

Juicy morphed into 694 Wine & Spirits in January of 2011 when employees Chip Dudley and Chris Dunstatter bought it from Rodney Alex, and so far the changes (among them a beefed-up beer list) have been minor. Popular for a girls' night out, the two-story wine bar has a spacious upstairs with a DJ booth and an outdoor deck. The ballyhooed Benton's bacon BLT is the Tuesday special, along with half-priced bottles of pinot noir. We opted instead for half glasses of reds and were impressed by the generous pours. The BLT ($10) was a letdown, except for the deliciously smoky, crispy bacon we'd order a la carte ($5) next time. On the other hand, cured meats from Armandino Batali (Mario's papa) are first-rate, among them fennel-and-black pepper-flavored finocchiona and culatello. European and American cheeses range from mild Delice d'Bourgone triple cream to stinky Spanish Valdeon blue and come with a garnish of olives, dried fruit, almonds, and truffled honey, plus mediocre baguette slices. A few panini, a butter-and-salt trio, and "devil's bread" topped with spicy stuff round out the savories. Sweets from Hoosier Mama Pie and Celestial Kitchens include a decadent Creme de la Creme chocolate cake from the latter. —Anne Spiselman

Westminster Hot Dog

11 N. Wells | 312-445-9514

$

AMERICAN | MONDAY-FRIDAY FROM "8 AM TILL WE RUN OUT!" | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

I had great hopes for this unassuming nine-stool Loop sausage shop, which has adopted the Hot Doug's model while following Franks 'n' Dawg's in grinding and stuffing its own line of a dozen tube steaks. But at least three of the sausages I tried were nearly indistinguishable from the others, all characterized by an almost aggressive lack of seasoning and color. There was no trace of orange peel in the feta-topped special Greek loukaniko, and no garlic in the Polish. The chorizo had some heat, but little else; a Reuben at least had some flavor from the corned-beef cure, but was sloppily dressed with kraut and cheese. The buns themselves show some textural character, but the accompanying fries are of the frozen crinkle-cut variety. Regretfully, the best thing I ate was the tomatoey, spaghetti-style beef chili, which concealed a smoldering heat. A small breakfast menu is rolled out until 10:30 AM, and a couple of game sausages are featured each week. —Mike Sula

Wolcott's

1834 W. Montrose | 773-334-4848

$$

BAR/LOUNGE, american | LUNCH: SATURDAY & SUNDAY: DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 2 | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

An early version of the menu on the Wolcott's website suggested southern influence, but it's since been forsaken; instead dinner options run the standard-fare gamut from burgers to meat loaf, blackened chicken, and fish tacos. The deep-fryer being a forgiving medium, I wish we—and Wolcott's—had taken a more traditional bar-food route. Mac 'n' cheese was fusilli in a thin sauce, flavored with what tasted like smoked Gouda and a hefty—not unwelcome—dose of red pepper flakes. Chicken potpie, with finely diced frozen veggies in the classic TV-dinner style, was comforting for that very fact—but as far as nostalgia goes, ten bucks does seem a bit steep. —Sam Worley

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