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New Too 

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The Atrium Wine Bar

401 E. Illinois | 312-379-0132

BAR/LOUNGE, SMALL PLATES | DINNER: WEDNESDAY-SUNDAY | CLOSED MONDAY, TUESDAY | OPEN LATE: WEDNESDAY-SUNDAY TILL 11

Fox & Obel's newest addition, this wine bar offers a relatively upscale atmosphere at less-than-upscale prices. A modest selection of appetizers, entrees, and desserts—less than 20 in all—is joined on the menu by a couple dozen wines by the glass and half glass and several more by the bottle (at the store's retail price). We started with a well-curated domestic cheese plate (Humboldt Fog, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, and an aged Vermont cheddar). The sweet crab flavor shone through in a blue crab cake special that went well with not only the curry aioli that accompanied it but also the unoaked California chardonnay the waiter recommended. Unfortunately the entrees were less successful. An overly sweet pomegranate sauce made the ginger-spiced chicken breast with sweet potato puree nearly inedible, and the pumpkin was virtually undetectable in an unremarkable pumpkin-and-roasted-duck risotto with spiced pecans. Still, service was excellent, the wine affordable, and by the time we left I'd all but forgiven the missteps with some of the food. —Julia Thiel

Brand BBQ Market

2824 W. Armitage | 773-687-8148

$

BARBECUE/RIBS | LUNCH: MONDAY, WEDNESDAY-FRIDAY; DINNER: SUNDAY-MONDAY, WEDNESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED TUESDAY | BYO

Brand BBQ is the embodiment of the new-style urban barbecue joint, with a chef who's a graduate of culinary school, a spiffy interior with art on the walls, and not an anthropomorphic pig in sight. The formal training of pit mistress Sweet Charity Smith—a name perfectly suited to barbecue—shines on the cheffier portions of the menu. The BrandCheezie is a flabbergastingly delicious smoked venison sausage stuffed with Gorgonzola, wrapped in bacon drizzled with brandy-cherry barbecue sauce, and served resting on a bed of microgreens and deeply caramelized onions. Smoked pulled duck is moist and rich, the hints of porcini mushroom in the brandy-cherry barbecue sauce highlighting the earthy flavors of the duck. Drop-dead-tender smoked pork belly confit is offered as stand-alone with bourbon-mustard barbecue sauce or on a bun with a fried egg and maple mayo. Slow-smoked chicken was the highlight of the traditional barbecue items, a Caribbean jerk barbecue sauce and smoky, spicy chipotle sauce complementing the moist, tender bird. Pulled pork was an odd combination of dry and mushy with little smoke flavor; barbecue sauce and a judicious application of slaw helped, but at present the smoked tofu is better—which alone speaks volumes. Burnt ends—actually more brisket "lardon"—provide a tasty accent to creamy mac 'n' cheese and give bacon a run for its money on the eight-ounce burnt-end burger topped with smoked Gouda. Sides include tangy vinegar slaw, bourbon-creamed corn, crispy fries, and surprisingly tasty spicy broccoli studded with slow-roasted garlic cloves. —Gary Wiviott

Crepe Crave

1752 W. North | 773-698-8783

$

EUROPEAN | SUNDAY-WEDNESDAY 7:30 AM-8 PM, THURSDAY-SATURDAY 7:30 AM-9 PM | BYO

Crepe Crave bills itself as a "crepe and gelato cafe," and that's exactly what it serves—no more, no less. The coffee's from Illy, the 18 flavors of gelato (some seasonal) from the Michigan company Palazzolo's. The crepes are classified as sweet, savory, or "breakfast," which spans both, and if you don't like the combinations offered you can build your own. The smoked salmon on the Norwegian, served with cream cheese, was perfectly balanced by capers and red onions; an egg crepe with feta, spinach, and fresh tomatoes was equally good. Sweet cheese was our favorite of the sweet crepes—a cheesecakelike confection that we had with strawberries. Though the place is fairly nice, with a leather couch and hardwood floors, everything's served in or on plastic, but the crepes are good enough that I'll be back whether or not they ever offer them on real plates. —Julia Thiel

DeColores

1626 S. Halsted | 312-226-9886

$$

MEXICAN/SOUTHWESTERN, GALLERY | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | open late: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL MIDNIGHT | BYO

At DeColores the taquitos de papa (tiny tacos filled with mashed potato then fried golden) are deliciously inventive—draped with sugar beets and chayote in a tomato citrus sauce, they're crunchy and colorful. Other appetizers, unfortunately, weren't nearly as enjoyable on my recent visit: the pozole was vapid and the ceviche that we'd hoped would be dominated by the taste of fresh fish was instead overwhelmed by orange marinade. Still, I'm not damning the place with faint praise when I say the chips were very good; too often the bowl of fried tortillas is a throwaway item that doesn't get enough attention, but here they make an effort to make them fresh and crisp. As for the entrees—well, it's going to be tough to say something good there. The mole on the chicken may not have come from a grocery store shelf, but it sure tasted that way, and I couldn't eat more than a bite of the alambres al pastor, chunks of pork in a powdery guajillo salsa. Featuring some decent beef, the tampiquena was probably the best dish of the bunch, though it was served without guacamole. The staff and servers were very simpatico. —David Hammond

Manghal

1805 Howard, Evanston | 847-859-2681

$$$

KOSHER/JEWISH/DELI, MEDITERRANEAN | LUNCH, DINNER: SUNDAY-THURSDAY | CLOSED FRIDAY, SATURDAY | BYO

Named for a style of flaming meat-on-a-spit cookery identified with Israel but popular all over the Levant, this kosher joint on the Evanston side of Howard Street could conceivably cut into the market share of the Taboun Grill outpost in Rogers Park. At either place you'll pay in the mid-20s for two skewers of lamb or beef with two sides and around $18 for chicken. But if keeping kosher is your game, you're not going to do much better. And though there's a tendency to hold back on the seasoning for some dishes—no oil or vinegar on the Israeli salad, no salt on the sesame-crusted schnitzel—others are as bright and vibrant as the Mediterranean sun. Cuminy Moroccan eggplant and incendiary, chile-fired matbucha more than offset the juicy but undersalted skewers. —Mike Sula

Pasha

802 W. Randolph | 312-243-4442

$$

TAPAS/SPANISH | DINNER: WEDNESDAY-SATURDAY | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, THURSDAY-FRIDAY TILL 2, WEDNESDAY TILL MIDNIGHT

Formerly on Clark, Pasha has moved south to Randolph, a hybrid club-restaurant with an emphasis on the former. The kitchen churns out the greatest hits of the tapas genre—garlic potatoes, garlic shrimp, garlic octopus, etc—and though everything was capably prepared, it all had an uninspiring, by-the-numbers feel when it wasn't outright repetitive (Oh, there's that red sauce again!). On the upside the tostones, which aren't exactly standard for a tapas menu, were spectacular, beautifully crisped and unexpectedly moist with flavor. Both the white and red sangria were pleasantly mild, one slightly peachy, the other (we were told) tinged with rosemary, providing a little fuel for people who plan to cut the rug, which they can do during swing dance classes on Wednesday night. Latin music fills the place Thursdays through the weekend, two nights a week provided by the Bandoleros, who have an ownership stake in the place. With a sizable stage and dance floor and a genuinely friendly front-of-the-house team, Pasha seems designed to attract customers who want to dance and maybe have something to eat while they're there. —David Hammond

Shawarma Inn

5523 N. Lincoln | 773-271-7777

$$

MIDDLE EASTERN | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 2, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 11 | BYO

At first glance this inviting, Christmas string-lit spot on the Budlong Woods stretch of Lincoln Avenue seems no different from the scores of hummus-and-kebab-slinging Middle Eastern joints around the city. But it belongs to the small and special subset of Assyrian Iraqi restaurants, offering a few dishes specific to the Fertile Crescent in addition to the usual mezes and grilled meats. Cases in point: the bulgur-and-minced-beef pancake kubba mosul and masgouf, a flame-grilled river fish (catfish, in this case) with crackly skin and moist, voluptuously fat flesh, dressed in onion-and-tomato saute and served with a heaping pile of rice. The menu here is practically identical to the one at owner George Koril's other restaurant, Albany Park's George Kabab Grill, and both restaurants maintain convenient hours for early bird and night owl. —Mike Sula

Sushi Taiyo

58 E. Ontario | 312-440-1717

$$$

ASIAN, JAPANESE | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 1

Maybe three's a charm. Jeff Zhang and Sandy Yu (Jia's, Shine, Rise) transformed their Republic Pan-Asian and Sushi Restaurant into Farmerie 58, and now they've changed it to Sushi Taiyo, sacrificing the "local, sustainable" mantra in favor of an extensive, loosely Japanese menu. The street-level space—the new main dining room—has been redone and looks both warmer and more dramatic, with red accents, 60s-style orange-upholstered Knoll chairs flanking rows of dark laminate tables, a bar on one side, and a sushi station in back. On my visit, the upstairs dining room was being turned into a lounge. Much of the sushi remains from previous incarnations, and it was ultrafresh, especially in the "new-style sashimi appetizer," a choice of three fish and three sauces—we had hamachi with soy-ginger strewn with microgreens and accompanied by a small salad. One of a long list of signature rolls, the tasty kochi maki had marinated lobster and avocado inside and slices of unagi and eel sauce outside, but the rice was a bit mushy. Scallops baked with enoki mushrooms in individual shells were delicious, thanks mostly to the rich garlic-chile cream sauce. I also liked the lamb lollipops, baby chops, paired with thin noodles tossed with greens in a soy-based sauce. Alas, the shrimp and vegetable tempura appetizer was a leaden, oily dud. The affable, knowledgeable waiter said his favorite big plate was chile-garlic prawns, so we took his advice and got seven tail-on, partially butterflied, succulent jumbo shrimp artfully arranged atop a mix of onions, red bell peppers, and still-crisp okra in a piquant sauce. The intensely bittersweet chocolate ganache tart with chocolate ice cream was top-notch, but slightly spongy lychee cake with refreshing pomegranate sorbet cried for a fresh lychee garnish. —Anne Spiselman

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