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JP Chicago

901 W. Weed

312-337-2001

Marc Bortz and Jason Paskewitz have just opened JP CHICAGO, a cozy bistro next door to their first joint venture, Sangria Restaurant and Tapas Bar. The space, once a motorcycle repair shop, has a huge, weathered Citroen sign over the bar, red leather banquettes, sandblasted ceilings, old New York subway tiles lining the walls, and a pleasant worn-in feeling. Paskewitz's seasonal menu focuses on French-inspired American comfort food: His duck starter, for instance, is a leg and confit glazed in house-made orange marmalade, served with a refreshing mache. His creamy parsnip-and-sweet-corn soup has a hint of black truffle and is topped with a dollop of creme fraiche. There are four steak frites options: New York strip, hanger steak, filet mignon, and flat-iron. (Get the bearnaise sauce on the side unless you like your fries soggy.) The slow-roasted chicken disappointed the friend I dined with--the skin wasn't crispy and the enormous serving of mashed potatoes and fall vegetables in jus on the side, while flavorful, was messy and soupy and overwhelmed the moist chicken. The wine list is impressively global--there's everything from a Rhone Valley Syrah to an Italian merlot to a Chilean pinot noir--with more than a dozen by-the-glass choices. The mostly young crowd gives the place a lively energy, but the room's hard surfaces make it a little too loud for quiet conversation. --Laura Levy Shatkin

Prairie Grass Cafe

601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook

847-205-4433

It's no surprise that PRAIRIE GRASS CAFE, a contemporary American room in the burbs, is already packed. Consider the roster: the executive chefs are Sarah Stegner, who used to cook at the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, and George Bumbaris, who's worked with Stegner for 21 years; Stegner's husband, Rohit Nambiar, a Four Seasons veteran, runs the front of the house and manages the wine list. The place is relaxed and unpretentious, with neutral colors, wood-topped tables, and monitors showing grass blowing in a gentle wind. The menu is seasonal, mostly organic, and very midwestern. There are no fussy dots or drizzles; you won't find any dishes with multiple sauces. Stegner concentrates instead on simple things like crab cakes (with minimal bread crumb filler) served with a roasted sweet red pepper sauce and savory corn relish. The heavenly flaky phyllo strudel was filled with mushrooms and artichokes and the delicate roasted vegetable lasagna had layers of peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes and creamy house-made ricotta cheese. Fish dishes include a tender whitefish topped with an herb remoulade and a tomato bread salad (cubes of bread and diced tomatoes tossed in light olive oil) and braised snapper served in a tomato-fennel broth with earthy but slightly gummy black rice on the side. A marinated beet salad with orange and lemon oil, diced pears, toasted hazelnuts, and crumbled goat cheese was a little too sweet and could've used a splash of vinegar. The apple pie was also too sweet, but the crust was flaky and tender. Service is knowledgeable and efficient. --LLS

Amore Ristorante

1330 W. Madison

312-829-3333

Maybe it was the cheerful Christmas decorations, or maybe it was the extraordinary solicitousness of the bus staff, or the garrulous owner, who greeted nearly everyone like they were founding members of the Rat Pack. Whatever the reason, my girlfriend and I were taken with AMORE RISTORANTE, located in the ever shrinking no-man's-land between Halsted and the United Center on West Madison. The uncomplicated Italian food is prepared with a level of care that makes you wonder how they make any money. The bruschetta, for instance, came decked out with garlic, tomato, basil, mozzarella, and a small haystack of roasted spinach. On a chilly, crepuscular late-November Chicago day it tasted like pure sunshine. The baked clams, forcefully recommended by our waitress ("No, I mean, they are really, really good--seriously"), fairly levitated out of a brown-butter and shallot sauce. When she caught me dipping my bread in the leftover reduction, the waitress whispered, "See, I told you so." Only truly outstanding service can make you feel like you're part of a conspiracy. The meal got even better with our entrees: two massive wheels of rotolo with spinach and four-cheese sauce and a huge slab of halibut Napolitano sauteed in white wine with cilantro and crushed red pepper. The chef must feel guilty about selling the fish for $19, because it comes with a trio of lagniappes--shrimp, calamari, and scallops. To finish, we were charmed into ordering a brick-size piece of tiramisu and a martini glass full of chocolate gelato, both homemade and evanescent, especially the tiramisu, which was boozy, creamy, and the best I've had this side of Anna Maria's Pasteria. --Chip Dudley

Other Recent Openings

Dorado Restaurant, 2301 W. Foster, 773-561-3780. French-influenced Mexican food from Luis Perez (Daniel J's, Jack's on Halsted, Bistro Marbuzet).

Globe Cafe & Bar, 1710 Orrington, Evanston, 847-866-8700. Swanky dining room inside the recently renovated Hotel Orrington.

Horseshoe, 4115 N. Lincoln, 773-549-9292. Barbecue place that feels like a bar, from Coobah owner John Litz.

Kizoku Sushi & Sake Lounge, 358 W. Ontario, 312-335-9888. Contemporary Japanese spot in River North managed by Sam Robertson, with executive chef Kee Chan, both from Heat.

Masck, 35 W. Ontario, 312-440-8880. Downtown offshoot of a Deerfield restaurant, serving an eclectic menu.

Osteria Via Stato, 620 N. State, 312-642-8450. Italian restaurant from Rich Melman and Rick Tramonto, featuring food by David Di Gregorio (Maggiano's).

Sausalito Restaurant & Martini Bar, 543 W. Diversey, 773-248-7263. New name, new decor, new menu, but same cook as the former inhabitant of this space, the Italian Zucco.

Tanoshii, 5547 N. Clark, 773-878-6886. Sushi Mike, formerly at Hama Matsu, has found a new home at this pan-Asian place.

Usagi Ya, 1178 N. Milwaukee, 773-292-5885. East Ukrainian Village pan-Asian with two tearooms and a sushi bar.

X/O Chicago, 3441 N. Halsted, 773-348-9696. Sharing portions of seafood and contemporary American food from chef Bob Zrenner, plus an extensive wine and spirits list.

Closed

Shawerma King, 4639 N. Kedzie; Thai Planet, 2725 W. Peterson.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/A. Jackson.

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