Restaurants: In the Neighborhood, June 19, 2008 | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

Restaurants: In the Neighborhood, June 19, 2008 

Twenty-four River North restaurants with food ratings of 7.5 or higher

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In the Neighborhood

Twenty-four River North restaurants with food ratings of 7.5 or higher

Aigre Doux230 W. Kinzie | 312-329-9400

F 8.2 | S 6.5 | A 7.0 | $$$$ (8 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Mohammad Islam and Malika Ameen, the married couple in the kitchen at Aigre Doux, have celebrity chef pedigrees (the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Jean Georges, Balthazar, Craft), and the promise of their restaurant earned it blurbs in glossy magazines months before it opened. Given the boldface print, it's gratifying and somewhat surprising to discover that the food isn't crying for attention: it's simple, elegant, and good, full stop. Islam's seasonal menu offers graceful variations on New American ideas—for example, rack of lamb with truffled grits and fennel, an ethereal green garlic soup, a wild salmon napoleon with herbed corn-bread stuffing. And Ameen's desserts should not be skipped: sticky toffee pudding with candied kumquats and Devonshire cream sorbet was shameless, over-the-top, and irresistible. —Nicholas Day

Bin 36339 N. Dearborn | 312-755-9463

F 7.5 | S 7.5 | A 6.9 | $$$ (9 reports)American Contemporary/Regional, Small Plates, Bar/Lounge | Breakfast: seven days; Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2, Thursday till midnight, Monday-Wednesday till 11

A unique hybrid of retail wine store, casual bar, and formal dining room from restaurateurs Dan Sachs and Joanne Chessie, executive chef John Caputo, and wine director Brian Duncan, who aim to demystify the process of matching wine with food. Curved racks of wine divide the retail corner from the bar, which serves tasting portions of light, eclectic fare ranging from seafood sliders and charcuterie to burgers. The full-service dining room serves a seasonal American bistro menu that includes items like an appetizer of steamed mussels and crispy fries in white wine and seared Alaskan halibut with roasted red bliss potatoes and fried green tomatoes. The vast selection of wines (50 by the glass, about 300 by the bottle) is organized into "bins" of four or five related wines with associated bin numbers, several of which appear on the menu next to each dish. The restaurant also offers flights of two-and-a-half-ounce tasting portions. A first-class cheese selection with more than 30 choices features several exceptional goat cheeses. Servers are, of course, wine savvy. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Boston Blackie's164 E. Grand | 312-938-8700

F 7.6 | S 8.0 | A 6.0 | $ (5 reports)American, Burgers, Bar/Lounge | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Monday-Saturday till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

rrr Raters like the low prices and the big burgers, which come in everything from plain to the namesake Boston Blackie Burger, with bacon and caramelized onions. "It is undeniably delicious and filling," says one, "and you can walk out for under $8 a person." Another likes the deco-inspired room, saying it's "kind of like a place where old-time Chicago gangsters would have met up." This place can get very crowded, and service is mixed. —Holly Greenhagen

Brazzaz539 N. Dearborn | 312-595-9000

F 7.7 | S 6.4 | A 7.2 $$$$$ (5 reports)South American, Steaks/Lobster | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days

Well, no one ever went to a Brazilian steak house expecting subtlety, and in that Brazzaz doesn't disappoint. From the cavernous room to the endless salad bar to the final tab, this River North churrascaria is all about living large. For a set price ($48.50) diners can partake of an array of grilled meats, delivered tableside by saber-wielding "gauchos." Stick with the various cuts of beef—the garlic steak, filet mignon, and tender rump cuts were all delicious, grilled to perfection and packed with flavor. But the pork tenderloin was dry, the shrimp tasted frozen, and the lamb? Tough and gamy, the less said about it the better. Various starches (yuca, plantains) are provided as filler, and once the meat is gone servers circulate with a tray of glutinous desserts and shots of a mystery liqueur no one, not even staff, seems able to identify (you'll pay extra for both). But the salad bar is truly impressive: piled high with veggies, fruit, cheese, olives, salami, lox, seafood, and chafing dishes of risotto and other sides, it's available on its own for $20 and a lot more reliable than what's coming off the grill. —Martha Bayne

Cafe Iberico739 N. LaSalle | 312-573-1510

F 7.7 | S 7.0 | A 7.0 | $$ (16 reports)Tapas/Spanish | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 1:30, other nights till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

Loud, crowded, and a tad disheveled, Cafe Iberico has been going strong for years and seems only slightly worse for the wear. The cavernous 450-seat restaurant includes two dining rooms, three bars, a party room, and a deli counter offering a selection of Spanish cheese, sausages, and canned goods. At 10 PM on a Wednesday the front bar was surprisingly packed with a diverse crowd of diners, from a clutch of Muslim teenagers to a multiethnic mix of young professional couples and a rowdy squad of pub-crawling frat guys. The service was efficient, if not terribly solicitous, and the bathroom was a mess. But if you stick to the classics, the menu still delivers. A bowl of mild Spanish olives was a nice complement to a simple plate of buttery jamon iberico and nutty manchego cheese, served with rounds of bruschetta. The gambas al aijillo—grilled shrimp in garlic and oil—were firm, crispy tailed, and came sizzling hot; champignons a la plancha were mushroom caps in their own dusky, smoky oil-and-garlic suspension. The more ambitious dishes fell flat. Dry as dust and served with even drier french fries, the pork tenderloin showed no signs of having been marinated as advertised; a special, octopus and cuttlefish in a tomato sauce with potatoes and peas, was bland and mealy. But if a dish disappoints, you're not out much more than a five spot, and at $3.95 a glass even the sangria is cheap. —Martha Bayne

Crofton on Wells535 N. Wells | 312-755-1790

F 8.5 | S 6.6 | A 8.3 | $$$ (7 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Vegetarian friendly

Chef-proprietor Suzy Crofton presents a well-balanced and innovative menu in a small, urbane setting. Subdued music playing in the background of the minimally decorated room keeps the conversation level down and the focus on the food. The menu changes seasonally, but staples include appetizers like crab cakes with mango butter and wild mushrooms with bacon and brioche. Entrees include chipotle-roasted Amish chicken and a pork tenderloin with smoked apple chutney. Half a dozen desserts are offered, for example a Meyer lemon semifreddo served with a cupcake. One Rater sums the place up with a simple imperative: "Go." —Paul Schoenwetter, Rater

DeLaCosta465 E. Illinois | 312-464-1700

F 7.8 | S 7.6 | A 9.2 | $$$$ (5 reports)Latin American | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

If you can get past the aggressive hipness of DeLaCosta, with its icky-sweet signature "poptails" (fruity cocktails garnished with boozy popsicles), loungey see-and-be-seen "solarium," and cabanas for private dining, you'll find a very good restaurant. For his first Chicago venture, celebrated chef and James Beard award winner Douglas Rodriguez combines Spanish, South American, Caribbean, and occasionally Asian flavors that inject new life into the nuevo Latino trend. For me, the most intriguing dish was an appetizer of rum-cured marlin tacos, which somehow tricked my taste buds into sensing cocoa flavors, an unusual but not unwelcome sensation. A half-dozen different types of ceviche, a house specialty, feature sashimi-like pieces of superfresh fish lolling among such exotic ingredients as Thai chile, Kaffir, and galangal leche. While you could happily make a meal from various tapas and appetizers, don't pass up entrees like the prime New York rib with a coriander rub and shiitake mushrooms, which prove the kitchen handles meat as deftly as seafood. —Heather Kenny

Fogo de Chao661 N. LaSalle | 312-932-9330

F 8.2 | S 8.7 | A 7.5 | $$$$ (16 reports)South American, Steaks/Lobster | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days

rrr The huge industrial space works well with the service concept at this Brazilian churrascaria: not only is there plenty of room for the enormous center salad bar, but the circulating "gauchos" (servers dressed in those below-the-knee pants) can glide easily from table to table with their huge metal skewers of meat. They serve as many helpings as you want of spit-roasted beef, lamb, pork, and chicken for a set price ($48.50, or $29.50 for lunch). You flip a cardboard marker to green when you want them to approach the table, red when you've got enough on your plate. You can request a desired degree of doneness, but with the meat cycling back to the fire after a few cuts, chances are you won't get anything that resembles rare (we didn't, anyhow). The room is detailed in granite, slate, and natural-colored stones, and an enormous wine rack acts as a divider between the main dining room and the private space in back. Mashed potatoes, fried bananas, polenta, and cheese fries come as sides, but it's hard to give them any attention with all the activity. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Frontera Grill445 N. Clark | 312-661-1434

F 8.6 | S 6.4 | A 7.4 | $$$ (14 reports)Mexican/Southwestern | Lunch, dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Saturday brunch | Closed Sunday, Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Next door to the more formal Topolobampo, in a room covered with folk art, Frontera delivers a changing menu of exotically elemental stuff rarely represented on menus north of the Rio Grande—enchiladas dulces, for example, Colima-style shredded pork in a peppery chocolate sauce with pickled cabbage. On our last visit we sampled Mayan-inspired dishes, among them poc chuc de puerco, orange-marinated pork with a sharply defined habanero salsa. Frontera's marisqueira ecologica, a "sustainable seafood bar," lays out gorgeous oysters and vuelve a la vida, the classic ceviche cocktail. Yellow mole shows up on some other local menus, but here it cushioned a trout dressed with hoja santa (aka root beer plant) and garlicky purslane, both common in Mexico but less so on stateside platters. Desserts such as plantains with homemade crema make a suitably rich and sweet finish. With them, consider spending a few extra bucks on "Coffee for a Cause," a 100 percent Oaxacan brew that will go down as one of the most full-flavored straight-ahead joes you've ever tasted. —David Hammond

India House59 W. Grand | 312-645-9500

F 7.6 | S 6.4 | A 6.6 | $$$ (10 reports)Indian/Pakistani | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Vegetarian friendly

Tuxedoed waiters hustle around this large room appointed with art and a wall lined with wine; still, India House is more sow's ear than silk purse. After a work party at the ho-hum lunch buffet I wasn't expecting much from this satellite of a restaurant and banquet hall in Schaumburg, but I did have hopes of receiving the Bombay Sapphire martini I ordered. What I got instead was a slug of room-temperature gin served in a tumbler bedecked with a wan slice of lime—and I paid $9.95 for it. The food was unredeeming: naan lacked the grilled-to-order freshness you'd get in a cabbie joint; aloo chat was so bland not even liberal doses of mint-cilantro chutney and sour pickle could revive it. Meals come with a choice of soup or salad; best to go with the former unless you care for bottled French dressing. Somewhat overwhelmed by the enormous menu—there are more than 170 offerings, and one imagines at least half of them languishing in an enormous kitchen steam table—I rather boringly ordered a tikka combination of salmon and chicken. The sizzling platter was delivered with a flourish, but both meat and fish were dry, and the mutter paneer that came as part of the deal was made with mushy gray peas. —Kate Schmidt

MK868 N. Franklin | 312-482-9179

F 8.9 | S 9.5 | A 9.8 | $$$$ (8 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr Michael Kornick has moved on to other projects, but under executive chef Erick Simmons, MK retains its urbane polish and well-heeled clientele. A salad of endive with watercress, apple, haricots verts, and pecans was elevated by a happy marriage with a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Seared Hudson Valley foie gras served with a lemon-date compote left me indifferent; I also failed to be moved by the pommes frites with truffle cream, though almost every table in the joint was decked with a little brown paper sack of them. But entrees shine: pan-seared fluke was perfectly cooked and paired beautifully with celery root puree and horseradish-creamed spinach, and that's just one of four fish dishes. Roasted and grilled meat options round out the contemporary American menu—there's not much for vegetarians here. We finished up with a $14 Armagnac that would have been better at half the price. In fact, that's MK in a nutshell: I'd like a little more bang for my hundred bucks. —Kate Schmidt

Nacional 27325 W. Huron | 312-664-2727

F 9.2 | S 7.8 | A 8.7 | $$$ (9 reports)Latin American, Caribbean | Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday

rrr Lettuce Entertain You fuses the cuisines of 27 Latin American and Caribbean nations. Chef Francisco Bilchez uses ingredients like chorizo, yuca, and chipotles in creative and visually appealing ways. There are a variety of ceviches to start with, plus "Latin tapas" such as a lamb taco, a beef pupusa, a pumpkin-goat cheese croqueta, the last a "must-try," according to one Rater. Entrees range from steaks and seafood to a "tasting" of caramelized Latin vegetables served with arroz verde and roasted pumpkin. Sides include coconut rice and truffled plantains; drinks run the gamut from Brazilian caipirinhas to Cuban mojitos to Peruvian pisco sours, all of which pack a punch. Staff are knowledgeable and aim to please, but if you want to eat in peace, best finish before 11 PM on weekends, when the center of the room is transformed into a pulsing dance floor with a DJ spinning merengue and salsa. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Naha500 N. Clark | 312-321-6242

F 8.8 | S 7.1 | A 8.0 | $$$$ (14 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday

rrr Chef Carrie Nahabedian—recent winner of a James Beard award for best chef, Great Lakes—shows a fondness for sweet elements, as in an appetizer of scallops with citrus and vanilla bean, foie gras with pineapple, fennel, lavender, and honey vinegar, and entrees like honey-glazed duck breast with carrots, nectarines, broccoli rabe, and rhubarb jam. But she marries savory flavors well, too: the wood-grilled rib eye in an oxtail-red-wine sauce comes with a delicate gratin of goat cheese and macaroni; roast quail is paired with veal sweetbreads, prosciutto, boar bacon, and a potato fondant with Swiss chard, fiddlehead ferns, and basil. The emphasis of the seasonal menu is on locally sourced and sustainable foodstuffs. Decor is neutral: wood floors, taupe walls, a few natural-toned artworks, and a neat row of ornamental grasses serving as a room divider. There's a lounge menu served in the bar area. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Naniwa Restaurant607 N. Wells | 312-255-8555

F 9.0 | S 9.1 | A 6.7 | $$$ (9 reports)Asian, Japanese | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr I'm mystified as to what makes this place deserving of the rapture of its many fans. True, Bob Bee is an intuitive fish man who frequently puts forth some very fresh stuff, and his engagement with his customers—a prevalence of girls-night-outers it seems—is a winning trait. But this relatively traditional sushi joint, the less self-consciously hip older brother of the equally decent Bob San, isn't terrifically special, no more so than a half dozen other places around, and it's in no way close to an exceptional one like Katsu. An uni shooter—a shot glass of sake, quail egg, and roe—is a fun way to enjoy the reproductive organs of the sea urchin, and the silky grilled black cod with miso is pretty nice too (both are on the menu at Bob San). Bee has an appreciation for underappreciated fish like mackerel and superwhite tuna, or escolar (sometimes feared for an adverse gastrointestinal reaction it's said to produce), and it pays to heed his advice when he declares them, or any other fish, good on a particular day. —Mike Sula

Osteria Via Stato620 N. State | 312-642-8450

F 7.5 | S 7.9 | A 7.9 | $$ (18 reports)Italian | Dinner: seven days

The courses at Osteria Via Stato progress in the Italian tradition: from family-style antipasti and pasta to a small selection of entrees and side dishes to an optional cheese course. Ordering is simple: there's a fixed-price menu at $36.95; diners make only one choice, from a selection of six to ten entrees, and then the cavalcade of courses begins, with appetizers and sides changing nightly depending on what's fresh and in supply. (There's also an a la carte menu.) One night the antipasti included chilled house-cured salmon with radishes, drizzled with fruity olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper; paper-thin roasted fennel topped with melted Parmigiano Reggiano and butter; and a simple but delicious plate of salumi with olives. The first course changes frequently too—on one visit we got a toothsome pappardelle with a hearty tomato-based duck ragu; another time it was orecchiette with braised bitter greens. On a given evening entrees might include a wonderfully tender four-ounce veal tenderloin or a flaky monkfish osso buco. The well-conceived wine list offers Italian samplers priced at $15, $28, or $50 for three four-ounce glasses. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Phil Stefani's 437 Rush437 N. Rush | 312-222-0101

F 7.8 | S 8.0 | A 7.7 | $$ (6 reports)American, italian, Steaks/Lobster | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

The space is sleek and deco-esque, with windows that open onto the street, artist Gregg Gove's giant mural hanging above the bar, and dozens of black-and-white photos of Chicago personalities on the walls. The menu, full of steaks and chops, resembles Stefani's Tavern on Rush, but there's a hint of the original Stefani's on Fullerton (now closed) in the multiple pasta offerings. It's all a far cry from the ambience, food, and prices of Riccardo's, but old-timers and pols show up in droves anyway. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Quartino626 N. State | 312-698-5000

F 7.5 | S 7.2 | A 6.2 | $$$ (17 reports)Italian | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 2, Monday-Friday till 1, Sunday till 11

Quartino takes its cue from Italy's enoteche, wine bars that serve small plates of everything from antipasti to beef tenderloin. Chef John Coletta occasionally puts his own subtle spin on classic recipes but stays true to the main tenets of Italian cuisine: the best ingredients, simply prepared. Plates of thinly sliced sopressata, rich duck prosciutto, and soft, pungent mortadella (the only salumi not cured in-house) come with garnishes of giardinera, jammy mostarda (candied fruit with a touch of mustard seed), and a sweet-and-sour cucumber sauce. Fried polenta sticks, served with a red pepper sauce, are perfectly prepared: crisp on the outside and soft and creamy inside. Homemade gnocchi didn't quite achieve pillowy transcendence, but a peppery arugula pesto invited forgiveness. The only complaint about a grilled Nutella panino for dessert was that it didn't arrive oozing hot; profiteroles with vanilla gelato and chocolate sauce made for an elegant if messy ending. Wines—many offered in the U.S. here exclusively—are available by the quartino (quarter liter), half liter, and carafe, and there are also plenty of options by the bottle. —Heather Kenny

Shaw's Crab House & Oyster Bar21 E. Hubbard | 312-527-2722

F 7.6 | S 7.8 | A 6.9 | $$$ (11 reports)Seafood | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr Shaw's gets mixed reviews from Raters, who seem to have a pretty good time despite inconsistent food and service and high prices. The classic 40s-style room, with tile floors and dark wood paneling, is inviting if somewhat cramped. The professional staff cordially serves daily specials; a global assortment of oysters on the half shell ranges from Prince Edward Island Malpeques to British Columbia Malspinas. The adjoining oyster bar is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner with a scaled-down menu, a more casual bar atmosphere, and live music on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Two private party rooms accommodate groups of up to 80. —Laura Levy Shatkin

SushiSamba Rio504 N. Wells | 312-595-2300

F 8.0 | S 7.1 | A 8.6 | $$$$ (14 reports)Japanese, Latin American, Asian | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Sunday brunch | Open late: Saturday till 2, Wednesday-Friday till 1, Tuesday till midnight, Sunday-Monday till 11

This branch of a chain with locations in New York and Miami serves a dizzying combination of Japanese, Brazilian, and Peruvian food—the 20-seat sushi bar alone is a whirlwind of activity. Three of the nine menu categories are devoted solely to raw fish—not just sushi but also ceviche and oysters—while the rest of the offerings are South American (mushroom-and-cheese empanadas) or Asian-influenced South American (miso-marinated Chilean sea bass). The cuisine reflects what's typically available in big cities in Brazil and Peru, where thanks to turn-of-the-century Japanese immigration it's as easy to find edamame as churrasco. The wine list includes several little-known varietals like Spanish Xarello and Italian Arneis; there are also dozens of sake varieties, plus martinis, mojitos, and caipirinhas. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Tizi Melloul Mediterranean Restaurant and Lounge531 N. Wells | 312-670-4338

F 7.7 | S 8.0 | A 8.8 | $$$ (10 reports) Mediterranean, Moroccan, French | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Tizi continues to draw diners with its Mediterranean-influenced decor and menu. Braised octopus and fire-roasted Prince Edward Island mussels are among the appetizers; entrees include curried vegetable tagine with beans, rice, and goat cheese, and a deconstructed chicken bisteeya. Everything is beautifully presented in an atmosphere that's delightfully over-the-top: the red-tile entrance winds into an elaborate, theatrical dining room with fabric-covered walls and oversize pillows lining the bench seats. Contemporary African music fills the room, completing a generally uplifting experience. Servers can be slack, disappearing at times, but they're always friendly. The wine list is impressive, with a few half-bottle options and elegant stemware to enjoy them from. On Sundays there's belly dancing and a $3 martini special. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Topolobampo445 N. Clark | 312-661-1434

F 9.2 | S 7.1 | A 8.2 | $$$$ (9 reports)Mexican/Southwestern | Lunch: Tuesday-Friday; Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Sunday, Monday

rrr Perhaps more than any other chef, Rick Bayless has brought lesser-known Mexican dishes to the midwest. Case in point: corundas. I'd searched the city for these triangular tamales from Michoacan, and at Topolobampo, there they were, stuffed with requeson, a Spanish version of sweet ricotta, and paired with an Alsatian pinot blanc. The five-course tasting menu ($75; $45 more for skillfully handled wine pairings) is a guided tour through some outstanding regional dishes. Yucatecan-style ceviche was a delicate melange of finely cut habanero, cilantro, and onion mixed with tiny, flavorful shrimp and razor-thin calamari. Cochinita pibil, another Yucatecan standby, featured flavorful pulled pork under a cucumber-jicama julienne and served with a few slabs of pale loin. Lamb came in mole coloradito, made with anchos, chocolate, and almonds. Somewhat sweet, almost ketchuplike, it overwhelmed the meat a little, but coloradito tamales with cremini were excellent. With dessert there was hot Oaxacan cocoa with a blast of mescal and a small complimentary chest of chocolate and até, candied fruit. The entire menu changes monthly; perhaps because of the shifting lineup, service often falls short of the four-star food. —David Hammond

Vermilion10 W. Hubbard | 312-527-4060

F 7.6 | S 7.5 | A 7.8 | $$$ (16 reports)Indian/Pakistani, Latin American, Small Plates | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

There isn't really a philosophy behind Vermilion's fusion of Indian and Latin flavors—owner Rohini Dey and executive chef Maneet Chauhan just happen to like both cuisines. There are 20 or so tapas that exemplify the concept, such as a duck vindaloo arepa or chipotle-corn vadas (an Indian croquette). Larger dishes are divided among fusiony selections—for example, an olive-crusted filet mignon with chimichurri and fenugree-pepper sweet potatoes—and traditional Indian cuisine from Hyderabad. Especially intriguing are caldeirada de peixe, described as a traditional Amazonian stew of seafood and vegetables, and the miris Sri Lankan whole fish, prepared in a blend of 16 spices. One of the walls is painted bright red and hung with black-and-white photos shot by Indian fashion photographer Farrokh Chothia, and there's usually Latin or Indian lounge music playing. The highlight of the meal may be the wonderful smell of seasonings that fills the restaurant. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Vong's Thai Kitchen6 W. Hubbard | 312-644-8664

F 7.7 | S 7.7 | A 8.5 | $$$ (13 reports)Asian, Thai | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

The decor at this Thai restaurant developed by chef Jean Georges Vongerichten is mostly red and gray, with windows covered in wood and bamboo and walls brightened with redwood slats and illuminated with sconces. Appetizers include tuna sashimi, asparagus and shiitakes, and an array of satays (shrimp, chicken, beef tenderloin, portobello) with lively dipping sauces. A dish of shrimp and noodles in chile-garlic sauce was mostly noodles, with only a few shrimp garnishing the rim. There's an extensive list of sweet specialty cocktails and a decent array of wines by the glass. Servers are polite. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Wildfire159 W. Erie | 312-787-9000

F 8.0 | S 7.7 | A 7.7 | $$$ (18 reports)Steaks/Lobster, Barbecue/Ribs | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr Wildfire, like almost every Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, traffics in nostalgia. It's a replica of a 40s-era wood-paneled supper club, complete with Sinatra on the sound system, stiff drinks at the bar, and massive black-and-white photos of GIs on furlough doing the Lindy Hop with pretty girls. The menu is a throwback too. Meat predominates—steaks, chops, and barbecue. The baby back ribs are OK for ribs served in a place with white tablecloths, juicy and meaty though without the smoky resilience of a rib tended by a watchful pit master. I'd stick to steak on future visits, however. The bone-in rib eye I jealously watched the German tourist at the next table devour was massive, and the trio of filets mignons crusted in your choice of rubs looked great. Other parts of the menu give the nod to more recent decades: not too many Sinatra hangouts served macadamia-crusted halibut or touted their strategic partnerships with internationally distributed megabrands like Geyser Peak or BelGioioso. —Seth Zurer

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