Restaurant Tours: around the world in 80 minutes | Calendar | Chicago Reader

Restaurant Tours: around the world in 80 minutes 

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The hassle of deciding what kind of food everyone's in the mood for may be over. According to a recent New York Times article, "a growing number of restaurants around the country are serving the best-loved tastes from as many as a dozen countries." What's the reason for this trend? Economics. With half of all new restaurants going bankrupt within three years, competition is fierce. The result is a kind of global cuisine that drives purists crazy but gives average diners more choices. And it's certainly an improvement over last year's trend--trying to fuse them all into one dish.

People like choices. This summer 2.78 million of them braved 90-degree-plus temperatures to sample selections from Taste of Chicago's 71 participating restaurants. At Foodlife in Water Tower Place, 12 stations sell Italian pastas, Asian stir fry, Mexican quesadillas, Middle Eastern pilafs, and American hamburgers. And restaurants from Bossa Nova to Daniel J's to Stella D'Italia provide delightful examples of this trend.

The most overt local manifestation of it, though, is Bucktown's Eat Your Hearts Out! This is not my favorite restaurant name. It makes me think of Hannibal Lecter. That caveat aside, this sexy, deep purple, gilt-cherub- and chandelier-festooned storefront has something for everyone, including an entertaining view of the hookers on North Avenue (we found ourselves worrying if one wasn't back in 15 minutes). Before Australian owner Debra Sharpe and her manager/hostess sister Lisa opened this hip little spot last Valentine's Day, they catered tours for rock-and-roll bands full-time. Now they just do side projects like the Rolling Stones Voodoo Lounge tour. The Sharpes chose a global menu after experiencing the continual frustration of people who couldn't decide what they wanted to eat. If the Stones don't know what they want, who does?

The Sharpe's solution is an around-the-world-in-80-minutes menu: a tasty Middle Eastern platter ($12.50) of spanikopita, black bean hummus, baba ganouj, tabbouleh, stuffed vine leaves, falafel, skordalia, and feta salad (as the menu points out, "a great starter to share"); delicious "Mexican" options like an appetizer of duck and brie quesadillas ($5.50) and a spicy entree of grilled chicken ($11.50) with black bean cake, corn salsa, and poblano sauce; a tandoori chicken ($12.50) moister and more tender (purists take note) than any I've tasted in an Indian restaurant; and American pan-seared pork loin ($12.50) with a peppery wild mushroom sauce and vegetable rosti. We checked out a tasty appetizer salad of broiled tomato with mozzarella ($4.50), rolled jelly roll style with fresh basil and balsamic vinaigrette; plump artichoke gnocchi ($10.50) drizzled with rich brown butter; and a big, heart-healthy bowl of excellent linguine ($9.50) with fresh grilled vegetables and tomato coulis. Salads are very good here, both the field greens ($4.50) with balsamic vinaigrette and the Caesar salad ($5.50) with whole wheat croutons and freshly grated parmesan. The only misstep is the gluey, tasteless "swimming" Japanese noodles ($10.50) with vegetables and seaweed.

Desserts are less global, but absolutely fabulous: creme brulee ($3.75); banoffee pie ($4.75), with a graham cracker and melted toffee crust, bananas, and a topping of fresh whipped cream; and chocolate fudge tart ($4.25) with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Those truly committed to healthy eating can try the fresh fruit, organic fruit sorbets, or no-fat chocolate angel food cake.

Eat Your Hearts Out! uses organic vegetables and fruits and free-range meat, poultry, and fish whenever possible. Soup stocks are veggie based, and there are little heart-healthy symbols next to several menu items. The house coffee is Starbucks, but organic coffees, herbal and organic teas and wines, and Robert Corr natural sodas are also available. Smoking is limited to the bar area, but in such a small restaurant, and one so health conscious, why not ban it altogether?

Eat Your Hearts Out!, 1835 W. North, is open for dinner from 5 to 10:30 Monday through Thursday, 5 to 11:30 Friday and Saturday, and 5 to 10 Sunday. Brunch is served from 10 to 3 Saturday and Sunday. For more information call 235-6361.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Charles Eshelman.

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