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Restaurant Tours: Home for dessert addicts 

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I hate nouvelle cuisine. And I'm not alone. There were no "grazers" until places like Ambria started listing things like rare liver with raspberries as entrees. That's when people with functioning taste buds began ordering two appetizers, salad, and dessert. I of course ordered two desserts.

Getting dessert, unless you want to stay home alone and bake and I don't, involves dealing with restaurants. And when it comes to restaurants, it's a nouvelle world. Nobody has figured out how to make a nouvelle dessert. They tried with flourless chocolate cake, but I'm tired of that, just as I'm now getting tired of the tiramisu that's replaced it in all the Italian restaurants that have replaced all the French restaurants.

I do love Home. It's an in restaurant that isn't Italian. The other day I met a friend there for lunch. She didn't like it because it wasn't homey enough. It was in fact "too New Yorky" for her. Nothing's too New Yorky for me.

This little storefront addition to the River North restaurant explosion, with its silver ceiling, exposed brick walls, white paper tablecloths, schoolroom chairs, and wait staff clad in Art Institute-student black, looks anything but homey. The only thing it has in common with mine is limited seating.

The desserts at my place are nothing like the ones at Home either. At Home I actually found nectarine pie. I'd been looking for nectarine pie for months. Before that I was looking for raspberry. I found it at Bakers Square, but the ambience was all wrong. It was too homey. I want to eat chic food in chic restaurants and meat loaf with mashed potatoes in diners. But the meat loaf and mashed potatoes aren't as important as the apple pie a la mode.

Well, there isn't any pot roast here, no meat loaf with mashed potatoes, none of the comfort foods you'd expect from a place called Home. Perhaps to make up for the high-calorie desserts, the fluctuating menu offers healthy sandwiches and salads: the first time I went they had a selection of salads that included tomatoes with mozzarella, basil, and olive oil; spinach salad with blue cheese, pine nuts, and goat cheese dressing; and a reckless (considering this summer's killer-cantaloupe scare) melon berry fruit salad.

Unfortunately, that visit I was four pounds overweight so I decided to forgo the nectarine pie and wait until the next time to indulge. I guess you never realize you're crazy until you no longer are.

I settled for the roasted vegetable and fresh goat cheese sandwich ($5.25): warm roasted peppers and eggplant on grilled Italian bread, with I think a touch of balsamic vinegar. (On a return visit the peppers were bitter.) I tasted my companion's curried chicken salad with garden vegetables and mango chutney ($6.95). It was deliciously mild, and the serving was the size of the pudding in Sleeper, the one that never got any smaller, no matter how much Woody ate.

A friend at a neighboring table had brought along her child, the toddling gourmet, whose first solid food ever was goat cheese. She consumed a carrot muffin the size of her face. The staff seemed unfazed by a messy two-year-old, but this isn't the kind of place to bring children unless you want very fast service.

The following week I returned with Laney, a true friend--the kind who makes you order dessert. Thanks to her digestion problems, she mostly limits herself to dry, skinned, unseasoned chicken breasts. The poultry at Home is tailor-made for someone like Laney--naturally raised and chemical-free. Their grilled chicken sandwich, which is served unadorned ($6.95), actually tasted good. Laney can't resist dessert. Her chocolate cake ($3.25) was dense, silky, bittersweet--perfect.

I was desolate to hear there was no nectarine pie that day. There was plum, however, and the waitress assured me I wouldn't be disappointed. She warned me that it had just come out of the oven and might be a little hot. Who ever waited for a pizza to cool, let alone a pie? I tasted it. Laney tasted it. We looked into each other's eyes. Now we knew why they called it Home.

Over the next few days I continued to brood over the pie that got away. I called and asked when it would be on the menu again. They said they were "over" nectarines, but if I wanted to buy a pie, they'd see if they could find some--they generally try to use organically grown produce. Pies are $20 and up, depending on what you want inside, and the chef needs a day's notice. They mentioned that the Sun-Times had featured their plum pie recipe in that week's food section. After I saw the recipe, 20 bucks seemed reasonable.

The luncheon menu consists of soups, salads, sandwiches, and baked goods. Prices for salads and sandwiches range from $2.95 to $6.95. Pies and cakes are generally $3.25 a portion.

Home recently began serving dinner three nights a week. A la carte dinner selections vary weekly. Recent choices included fresh corn-and-greens soup ($3.95); an appetizer of poached shrimp on fennel with citrus dressing ($5.95); and a house salad with balsamic vinegar dressing and a frisee and spinach salad ($3.75 each).

Dinner entrees have very long names: ragout of artichokes, squash, and exotic mushrooms with spinach sauce and tomato risotto ($12.95); grilled fresh salmon with wasabi-ginger sauce, sesame rice cakes, and baby bok choy ($16.95); and grilled sirloin with sun-dried tomato and bacon sauce, custard potatoes, baby eggplant, and dragon tongue beans ($16.95) to name a few.

Located at 733 N. Wells, Home is open for lunch 11:30 to 2:30 Monday through Friday and 11:30 to 3 Saturday. Dinner is served 5:30 to 9:30 Thursday through Saturday. Since seating is limited, take advantage of the fact that they take dinner reservations. Wine and beer are available, but no hard liquor. Call 951-7350 for more information.

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

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