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Melanthios Greek Char House

3114 N. Broadway | 773-360-8572

$$$

GREEK | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL MIDNIGHT | RESERVATIONS FOR LARGE GROUPS ONLY

The best thing about Melanthios Greek Char House, which opened in November, is the aroma of smoke wafting out to the vestibule, even on weeknights when whole pigs and lambs aren't turning on the giant rotisserie/grill fronting the exhibition kitchen. The second best thing is the way the former video store has been transformed into an artfully rustic dining room with hardwood floors and exposed brick that would fit in perfectly in Greektown. Too bad our meal didn't live up to the expectations raised by the smell and setting. For starters, the large ice-cream scoops of Greek spreads on the pikilia combo reminded me of Japanese plastic food (or breasts, since each was topped with a kalamata olive), and the overly fishy taramosalata had a greasy mouthfeel. While metallic undertones marred the skordalia, tzatziki was merely mediocre. The warm Greek trio brought together grape leaves stuffed with underseasoned ground beef and rice, almost feta-free spanakopita with soggy phyllo atop spinach that tasted like it had previously been frozen, and a bunch of olives—not an inspired accompaniment. The highlight of our meal—aside from the hot, crusty, round loaves of bread—was freshly grilled octopus that was livelier, if less tender, than typical Greektown versions. Our high hopes for the grill, fueled by the dominance of expensive steaks and chops on the comparatively limited menu, were dashed when the "traditional souvlaki dinner" turned out to be skewers of dry chicken breast chunks and chewy pork served with grilled bell peppers and pita that surpassed the meats. Moussaka, which arrived with burned spots on the béchamel, was as dull as it was camera-unready. Thin Greek coffee and lackluster galaktoboureko with limp phyllo were a couple more low points. Better-than-average service wasn't good enough to make me want to return. —Anne Spiselman

RB Grille

1 W. Grand | 312-755-0189

$$$

STEAKS/LOBSTER, BAR/LOUNGE | LUNCH: MONDAY-FRIDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY & Sunday TILL 11

Has there ever been a good meal to be had at a grille? The Colorado-based chain Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewing has apparently decided to compete with the crowd-drawing kitty-corner Weber Grill by converting its dining room into a mid-price-point steakhouse. The space, dimly lit and surprisingly insulated from the hubbub of the adjoining Rock Bottom Brewery, has the air of a hotel restaurant, and our poor, personable waiter was required to ask, "Have you been here before?" Well, no, but it's not as if this is unfamiliar terrain: standard apps (crab cakes, calamari, shrimp cocktails, spinach dip, grilled ahi tuna), salads (including several chopped), steaks, and "plates" including short ribs, roasted chicken, walleye, and double-cut pork chops. A complimentary pan of cornbread, glazed ickily sweet, came with garlic butter; flaccid, heavy, breaded calamari came with a gluey sesame sauce. Salad, tossed tableside, might have been refreshing were it not for the almost soddenly overdressed greens. A ten-ounce prime rib—happily pink as ordered—was chewy rather than juicy and as hard to cut as it was to swallow, though the accompanying gravy and horseradish sauce weren't bad. That came with a mountain of cheddar mashed potatoes, the same that undergirded an order of braised short ribs, which were OK but oversalted. Best? Arguably the side of roasted asparagus we were brought in lieu of the requested creamed spinach. The latter, when it finally arrived, was dreadful—mushy, overrich, and devoid of much flavor. The wine list at this aspirational joint is a little odd, with prices ranging from $24 to $349. Stick with beer—and maybe stick with the pub side, where an only slightly revamped version of the old Rock Bottom menu remains on offer. —Kate Schmidt

Sweet Station

2101 S. China Pl. | 312-842-2228

$

ASIAN, CHINESE | BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: every night TILL 2 | BYO | RESERVATIONS FOR LARGE GROUPS ONLY

Let's avoid any potential confusion: there's nothing sugary about most of the offerings at Sweet Station, though there is a sweet big-ass menu. (It's believed by some that every time you try a new food, you're entitled to a wish; at Sweet Station, you'll probably run out of wishes before you run out of new foods to wish upon.) Eighteen hours a day, every day of the week, the Sweet Station food assembly line slams out selections from a dense bill of fare that lists several hundred items ranging from pan-Asian to Hawaiian and Portuguese. We started with abrus herb and pork tongue, a flavorful broth studded with toothsome chunks of lingual tissue. Portuguese chicken is a baked casserole of creamy fowl on a bed of spaghetti, tasty if nonassertive. The squid balls (did you know they had them?) were terrific, a kind of crispy seafood sausage, and the congee with ginkgo nuts and lily bulbs was a very light gruel that would make an excellent hangover breakfast. With its mammoth menu and reasonable prices, this is the kind of place that invites adventurous eating. I've marked my calendar to return this summer when they'll be preparing luffa (the spongy gourd that loofahs are made from), which is apparently as good for dinner as it is for stretch marks. —David Hammond

Theatre Cafe

2958 W. Irving Park | 773-866-2233

$$

CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL | DINNER: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: TUESDAY-FRIDAY TILL 1, SATURDAY TILL 2 | BYO

Tinted windows are about the most forbidding exterior feature a restaurant can have (aside from a health code violation sticker on the door)—if you can't tell who's inside and what they're doing, it's reasonable to assume it's nothing you'd want any part of. Don't let the intimidation factor deter you from visiting this "eclectic Midwestern wine bar"; the interior is somewhat swanky but inviting, with deep booths, comfy sofas by a fireplace, and blues on the soundtrack (except for Thursday, which is jazz trio night). The menu has a lot to recommend it—particularly with former Vintage Wine Bar and Farmerie 58 chef Jack Stankovic in and out of the kitchen, serving tables himself and chatting with diners. He's a hands-on chef who proudly offers an assortment of charcuterie (including duck ham), cheeses, pickles, and sandwiches. Big meaty plates come with thoughtful touches, such as bacon-wrapped lamb chops with veal demi sauce or a double-cut pork chop with apple-bacon glaze and house-made applesauce. It's only a few months in and Stankovic is already changing up the menu, but if it's as consistently well done as his opening efforts this has the makings of a neighborhood standby. —Mike Sula

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