Restaurants: New Too, June 5, 2008 | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

Restaurants: New Too, June 5, 2008 

Sixteen more recent openings

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

New Too

Sixteen more recent openings

Big Jones5347 N. Clark | 773-275-5725

$$American, Southern/Soul Food | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch

On first bite Big Jones was confusing. The barbecued shrimp bore no sign of smoker or grill, and the three "crispy grit cakes" holding up dollops of tangy pulled pork and slaw were soft as tapioca. But I admit to no special expertise in the "southern coastal cuisine" that is Big Jones's calling card. And as they were both damn tasty, we gave it a bye: who cares if it's misdescribed when it tastes so good? Paul Fehribach, former chef at Schubas' Harmony Grill, has taken the space long home to trapped-in-amber Augie's diner and turned it into an airy, minimalist dining room distinguished by floor-to-ceiling windows and wrought-iron chandeliers. Like those chandeliers, the menu gives a little wave to the French Quarter. The cocktail list is full of hurricanes and nicely balanced Sazeracs—including one with absinthe—and the menu includes crawfish croquettes, etouffee, and a rich and smoky gumbo of chicken, andouille, and gator sausage. But these items share the page with inland delicacies like baby back ribs and a Brunswick stew of braised rabbit and succotash, not to mention the complimentary starter of boiled peanuts. I didn't try the sandwiches but I wish I had: at a neighboring table the fried green tomato BLT on Sally Lunn and a sizable Tallgrass beef burger with fontina and green aioli were provoking groans of happiness. And the fresh, clean flavors of a simple house salad got my friend to sit up and take notice ("I think I just felt my eyesight get better!" he exclaimed.) All in all, Big Jones seems to be striving to fuse the accoutrements of upscale dining with the down-home soul of country cooking. When it doesn't work there can be a disconnect. But when it does—as in a special of sauteed bluefish with a tangle of salty greens and a scoop of savory rice pudding—the results are stellar, both sophisticated and bone-deep satisfying. —Martha Bayne

Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles3947 S. King Dr. | 773-536-3300

$$American, Southern/Soul Food | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Reservations not accepted

Early reports of bad service and long waits may not be the only result of the tremendous amount of attention this place received when it tried to exploit the good name of LA's esteemed Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles by calling itself Rosscoe's. One swift lawsuit and the motto on the menu—"A totally new concept in dining"—is the only remaining bit of exterior dishonesty about it. Management seems to be making a valiant effort to keep up with demand, providing bulky security guys with earpieces for crowd control, a roving team of carpet cleaners with brooms and dustpans, and a sympathetic hostess who told us we'd wait 45 minutes for a table on an early Tuesday evening, then seated us in ten. Decent enough fried chicken and waffles with syrup couldn't be simpler, though a myriad of combinations—legs and waffles, thighs and waffles, quarter chicken or half, and on and on—fill one whole side of the menu, pointlessly complicating things. On the other side there's a relatively small lineup of typical soul sides—mac 'n' cheese was very good, greens were undercooked—and a long list of pretty nonalcoholic concoctions (a "sunset" is lemonade topped with iced tea). The lines haven't diminished, but that may show just that Bronzeville's still starved for sit-down place where you can take your mom, your kids, or a date—apart from the nearby Negro League Cafe and Blu 47, Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles is pretty much all there is. —Mike Sula

Chocolate Grape2113 W. Division | 773-772-3990

$American Contemporary/Regional | Lunch, dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Sunday breakfast & brunch | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, Thursday till 11

Chocolate Grape doesn't really serve massive platters of chocolate covered grapes . . . just so you know. What it does serve is an eclectic mix of savory, sweets, and wines, plus crepes on Sundays. The menu offers moderately priced sandwiches and salads ($8.75-$10.75), many incorporating chocolate—for example, the Signature Grape salad, which comes with a teasing peach-white chocolate vinaigrette. The Wicker Parker Veggie, currently the only vegetarian-friendly sandwich, stuffs slabs of eggplant, zucchini, and portobello into a pita. There are about 50 bottles on the wine list, which suggests pairings, and 30 available by the glass—the minicupcake flight we tried might have benefited from some. Perhaps a bit oddly for a wine bar, there's a kids' menu featuring mac 'n' cheese, PB&J, and chicken strips. The atmosphere is relaxed and elegant, with club-size wooden tables, vintage golden couches, and antiques spread around the intimate space, and there's sidewalk seating for 45. —Kelly McClure

Couture Crepe Cafe2568 N. Clark | 773-857-2638

$European | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days| BYO

Crepes and coffee are the specialties at this little modern-looking Lincoln Park cafe decorated almost entirely in black and white. In fact, aside from a few panini and salads—dwarfed on the menu by nearly three dozen sweet and savory crepes—plus fresh-squeezed juice and Intelligentsia coffees and teas, that's all there is. The owners, Serbian brother-sister team Dusica and Darko Matijasevic, were originally just planning to have a cafe, but thought that it would be fun to have crepes as well. And it looks like they had fun coming up with their offerings: they've converted lots of classic sandwiches and salads into crepes, like the BLT, the PB&J, the tuna salad, and the Capri (spinach, sun-dried tomato, feta, and olives). A separate menu of specialties offers the likes of the "Monsterella," with mozzarella, portobellos, spinach, and bacon, and the "Pepperonata," with pepper puree sauce, avocado, and fresh mozzarella (though the menu, strangely, doesn't mention that sun-dried tomatoes are one of the main ingredients in the latter). Sweet crepes mostly feature fruit and cream or some combination of chocolate, caramel, and Nutella—it's hard to go wrong there. There are only a few small tables, but beneath their glass tops they're stocked with an eclectic selection of magazines, and there's also Wi-Fi for lingerers. —Julia Thiel

Great Lake1477 W. Balmoral | 773-334-9270

$$Pizza | Lunch: Saturday; Dinner: Wednesday-Saturday | Closed Sunday-Tuesday | Reservations not accepted | BYO

You can't say that Great Lake hasn't nailed its niche. Operating out of a tiny Andersonville storefront, it offers pizza, in five different variations, to take out or eat in at the restaurant's small communal table. Period. But, oh, what pizza it is. Made to order from meticulously sourced ingredients—everything on the menu has a pedigree—the pies are perfectly balanced. The #2 features creamy pools of house-made mozzarella, sopressata straight from New York's Salumeria Biellese, and a light fresh tomato puree atop a chewy, slightly salty crust. Other options showcase earthy cremini mushrooms and raw cow's milk cheese or hickory smoked bacon, creme fraiche, onion, and sage. Warning: the pizza oven is as small as the rest of the place, and can only handle one pie at a time, but owners Lydia Esparza and Nick Lessins do their best to give you an accurate wait time. Frankly, it's worth it. —Martha Bayne

Habibi1225-27 W. Devon | 773-465-9318

$Middle Eastern | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight | BYO

Don't be put off by the the shabby-unchic decor: the food at this BYO double storefront outclasses the setting. Besides well-balanced hummus, lightly smoky baba ghanoush, and grape leaves stuffed with nicely seasoned rice, cold appetizers included thick, smooth labenah, sour cream available plain, with green onions, or dotted with black olives and enriched with olive oil. Of the warm choices, we preferred kibbe, deep-fried torpedoes of cracked wheat stuffed with mild minced meat, to the average falafel. Habibi A, one of four mixed grills, featured flavorful marinated beef and chicken plus a small lamb chop, but the meats were heavily cooked, the chop to very well done. Much more interesting was maklouba, a melange of sauteed eggplant, smoky-brown cauliflower, thin potato slices, carrots, and beef (or chicken), with rice that soaked up all the juices. I'd return to try musakhan, a variation on a chicken wrap, and the lamb shanks, which were unavailable when I visited. They'd also run out of hareca, but another unusual dessert, spherical coconut-dusted kakaw, was a satisfying, not-too-sweet cross between candy and moist cake. Perfumy cinnamon-scented tea, offered when we arrived, was a blend of Lipton's and herbal, according to a friendly server. —Anne Spiselman

Kan Pou4256 N. Western | 773-866-2839

$$Asian, Thai | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | BYO

When Doungpon Morakotjantachote arrived in Chicago a few years ago, she was surprised to find that no one was baking for the local Thai community. So she started making cookies and sweets for one of the local Thai food shops. Now she and her husband have opened a full-fledged restaurant along the Western Avenue Thai strip, but as the name—Thai for "cloves"—suggests, sweets are still the real point of distinction. Entrees like pad thai and chicken basil are typical Ameri-Thai, sweetened up for the farang palate but freshly made and pleasing. The most novel item is alien-egg-looking sakoo dumplings, little balls of spiced chicken and sweet turnip coated in cassava, the same gummy starch used for tapioca and bubble tea. But the real reward comes at the end of the meal—at the very least you'll want to sample the butter cookies brightly flavored with lemongrass, ginger, and sesame seed, or indulge in a dessert sampler made up of a changing variety of eye-opening tastes and textures employing traditional ingredients such as coconut, custard, and sweetened bean paste. —Mike Gebert

Paddy O'Splaine's2434 W. Montrose | 773-866-1825

$Bar/Lounge, English/Irish/Scottish, american | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2

I can't fathom what sort of strategy was plotted during the endless buildout of this proudly faux Irish, comically inept monstrosity, the latest and greatest of Lincoln Square's ever growing roster of dumb, TV-centric barstaurants. Let's have a flat-screen for each eyeball to draw attention from the perpetual absence of servers! Let's tart up the crushing institutional mediocrity of the cattle feed with more ingredients than the human palate can process! Let's search for a bartender who thinks a twist in a gin martini is a fat wedge of lime! The atmospheric sensory overload is echoed on the menu of pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and main dishes. My tongue lost its way in a murky swamp of Guinness-bathed mussels, then seized up when confronted with an enormous pork chop stuffed with blue cheese and a trail mix of cherries and pistachios, with an extra fruit grenade in the apple chutney on the side. An overcooked crab-stuffed salmon was awash in red pepper coulis, and even the little ones aren't spared the assault—a kid's marinara pasta dish was plated with a double shot of linguine and penne. But this wanton excess is best expressed by the inclusion on the menu of Chilean sea bass, the poster fish for irresponsible eating. Even in ideal conditions, with an eighth of the tables occupied, both the kitchen and bar seem incapable of producing anything in a timely manner. —Mike Sula

Park 525201 S. Harper | 773-241-5200

$$$$American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Park 52 is perfect if you're (a) a U. of C. student who needs a restaurant to take somewhat conservative visiting parents, (b) a local bloke out to wow a date, (c) someone who values a classy-looking room over anything, or (d) all of the above. The most recent project of Jerry Kleiner (Marché, Carnivale, Room 21, etc), it's heavy with his signature drapery and fin de siècle fixtures. But when it comes to the food, we found the aggressively uneventful chow just this side of fine. Service is friendly if bewildered: ordering chicken-fried pork, I got a grilled chop that the bill listed as tenderloin. There's a comfortingly predictable lineup of strip steak, and herb-roasted chicken, all capably done—just way safe. Lump crab cake was all meat, but like the halibut special, strangely flat and uninspired. This place appeals across the food chain, with red meat offerings as well as salads (baby spinach with jicama and cherries is a good open or close to dinner); as at a steak house, though, be prepared to supplement entrees with a la carte starches like succotash or "Fat Tire O Rings" (onions fried in name-brand beer batter). Swank but welcoming to both suits and sweatshirts, Park 52 is a feasible dining option for a community that still has fewer good restaurants than it should. Answer: (d). —David Hammond

Pho Xua1020 W. Argyle | 773-271-9828

$$Asian, Vietnamese | Lunch, dinner: Sunday-Wednesday, Friday-Saturday | Closed Thursday| Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only| BYO

Brothers Van and Chi Huynh worked across the street at Hai Yen for many years (in the front of the house and kitchen, respectively) but struck out on their own with the aim of providing a more "comfortable" setting than the majority of Argyle Street restaurants. Like those, the new kid on the block has a dizzying selection of dishes, many of them rare or singular for the neighborhood (though many also appear at Hai Yen), and the freshness and quality of the ingredients seems several notches higher than the rest of the pack. With a relatively stronger Chinese influence than usual (there's a handful of "Mandarin-style" dishes), an unusual lamb noodle stew, and a large selection of pork preparations including a terrific salty house-braised belly (heo rang man), there's a huge expanse of interesting new territory to explore at the neighborhood's customarily budget-friendly prices. Take the grilled betel leaf beef appetizer—ground beef fingers tightly wrapped in a dark green dusky-flavored vegetal skin (bo la lot)—or the lotus-stem salad (goi ngo sen), a bracing but light composition of superfresh chicken, shrimp, pork belly, basil, and lotus. For all that, the pho is pretty one-dimensional, oddly enough: the noodles (all over the menu) are terrific, and the broth is simple, clean, and high quality, but it lacks the seductive note of five-spice powder. —Mike Sula

Purgatory Pizza3415 N. Clark | 773-975-6677

$$Pizza, American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Reservations not accepted

With a Texas-icehouse-style garage door in front, Purgatory Pizza attracts a quantum of Wrigleyville stumblebums, but while I did spend mealtime wondering if a stranger might, uh, purge on my shoes, the food here is way better than appearances suggest. Smoked wings (drumsticks too) are moist and meaty, with a peppery rub that renders side sauces irrelevant. Inventive sandwiches (named for the Seven Deadly Sins) are served warm on toothsome bread with house-made chips, and we were pleased with "Greed," which packs prosciutto, gabagool, and a blend of six cheeses. Pizza is done crisply right; we had the virtuously named Temperance, with complementary portions of cheddar, red onions, and beef brisket. It's an extra buck to add 'za toppings to the sammies, but the veggie additions are thick cut with fresh snap, and we dug the sweet heat of unpickled jalapenos. Wine and beer are on draft, and flowery Lagunitas IPA is one helluva brew. Overall, this is a good neighborhood choice, with generous wooden booths suitable for postgame lying about amid eternal flames licking up the walls toward blue heaven. Our harried though very able server took time to write reheating instructions on our doggie bag while banishing sodden clods with the unwavering determination of Saint Michael. —David Hammond

Shinobu1131 W. Bryn Mawr | 773-334-9062

$$$Lunch: Saturday-sunday; Dinner: seven days | BYO

It's official: sushi is a commodity, a product that competes with others like it based primarily on availability and price. Availability is a function of location, and if you're in Edgewater, Shinobu is a reasonable place to spend your sushi dollar. The price is right, anyway. A ten-piece sashimi platter, capably cut and fresh tasting, comes in under $20; most rolls hover around $10. That said, there's not much to distinguish this place from any other of the many neighborhood sushi joints that have opened in Chicago of late. There's the predictable panoply of rolls—much cream cheese in evidence—and they taste neither better nor worse than at other places, tilting toward the middle ground likely to please the greatest number. Tempura is OK, and though the fry coating has none of the lacy delicacy of the best versions of this traditional preparation, it's only $10. So if the sushi bug bites when you're in the hood, Shinobu can certainly scratch the itch—it just may not keep you coming back for more. —David Hammond

Shochu3313 N. Clark | 773-348-3313

$$Bar/Lounge, Asian, Small Plates | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2

A loungey, modern restaurant with a vast patio, Shochu boasts a heavily Asian-influenced menu by Josh Hansen of Deleece but is really about its namesake booze, a distilled spirit that in recent years has overtaken sales of sake in Japan. On offer are four varieties by ten imported labels, all served neat or on the rocks at $4 to $10 a glass or in $9 cocktails like the Shione (barley), whose generous dollop of muddled blackberries kept me from knocking it straight back. The drinks are a far cry from the staple "sours"—shochu, ice, and soda served with half a citrus fruit, a molded juicer, and a swizzle stick—on the menu at standard Japanese izakaya (casual bars that offer bites of everything from sashimi to french fries), but Shochu's service style is more or less the same. The dishes are small and varied (curry, maki, yakitori, and "raw"), meant for sharing and to be ordered as the mood (or the alcohol) strikes. From the raw menu we tried a small mound of chopped ono, avocado, scallion, and chile on a rice-paper bed; it looked doused in peanut sauce (hints of Thailand) but to my relief had the refreshing citrus taste of ceviche (viva Mexico?). The grilled skewers came three to a plate; order one and get a choice of two dips, order two and get all eight. The shrimp and pear, the bacon-wrapped dates, and the shiitake, tomato, and onion all lacked the nice smoky flavor lent by a good charcoal, but the avocado wasabi spared the shrimp from just OK-dom, the "Japanese ranch" revived the dates, and the sambal salt saved the day. Which is to say that about half of everything—though essentially good—was too intensely flavored, most often overly sweet. Next time I'll take a glass of the Shiranami, neat. —Irma Nuñez

Skewerz1560 N. Damen | 773-276-9805

$Asian, Vegetarian/Healthy, American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 3, other nights till 1 | Reservations not accepted | BYO

Late-night hunger pangs usually result in the worst possible food choices; if there's a bag of potato chips in your pantry and a tub of ranch dip in your fridge, in all likelihood they'll come together. But if you live in Wicker Park you've got a better option. Skerwerz, steps from the Damen el stop, is open till 3 AM on weekends, 1 AM other nights, and this is definitely not your standard fast-food joint. The specialties of the house are—how'd you guess?—a variety of items seasoned with Asian- and Hawaiian-influenced spices and condiments and char grilled on a stick. Options range from beef, chicken, and salmon to veggies and tofu, and everything I sampled was pretty tasty—especially the filet mignon, juicy chunks doused in five-spice seasoning with a crunchy char crust. You can order skewers a la carte or as an entree, which includes your choice of rice (white, brown, jasmine) and a condiment. The peanut sauce was creamy but not too sweet, and the mango chile was delightfully tart and spicy. Among the appetizers, the crab rangoon was only so-so, but a side of grilled baby bok choy was tender and bursting with flavor. This counter-service establishment, decked out with bamboo paneling and other tropical frippery, has about a dozen seats but seems to be more popular for carry-out (they deliver too). —Rob Christopher

Trattoria Isabella217 N. Jefferson | 312-207-1900

$$Italian | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

This new West Loop Italian restaurant mirrors its increasingly condo-ridden neighborhood—shiny, handsome, and seemingly soulless. As Tom Jones wailed over the sound system, white-shirted waiters and bussers hovered; friendly but bumptious, over the course of the meal they gave us spotted water glasses with a flourish, salad forks with an entree, and piled on our courses until the spacious booth table was completely overtaken by large white plates and bowls. Large rather than, say, delicious certainly seems to be the byword in the kitchen. Our choices from the menu of standard-issue offerings—a Caesar salad, bland grilled octopus overwhelmed by balsamic, spaghetti carbonara rich with cream rather than creamy with eggs—were, well, standard issue. Risotto alla Siciliana with sausage and peppers was better, though here again to eat it in one sitting would likely spell death, and the inevitable leftovers tasted like nothing so much as cold pizza. The meal wrapped up with more Tom Jones, and unless you're a fan, I suggest the only reason to come here is the pleasant side patio—god forbid he's piped out there too. —Kate Schmidt

Trattoria Pizzeria I Monelli5019 N. Western | 773-561-8499

$$Italian, Pizza | Lunch, dinner: Sunday-Monday, Wednesday-Saturday | Closed Tuesday | Open late: Friday-Sunday till 11 | BYO

I watched a doddering elderly couple shuffle out of this Lincoln Square trattoria when they were told the pizza comes out of a conventional oven. At this stage in our evolution, with Chicagoans accustomed to a wood-burning oven within walking distance of every bus stop, you have to wonder how smart it was to open a pizzeria without one. Here the pizzas are served Roman style, pizza rustica, shaped into rectangles, and square cut, with a thickish, breadlike, aerated crust fired at an intensity that doesn't do much to distinguish it. On my visit, though, half of ours was cut, unbidden, into extrasmall pieces out of respect for a toddler in the group. It's that sort of thoughtfulness, and an easygoing tenor, that might win over the neighborhood. Water and soft drinks are served without ice—just like in Italy!—and the operators, with ties to Pizzeria D.O.C. and Pizza Metro, can be observed bustling about the place, chattering with each other in uncensored Italiano and flirting with the stroller moms (careful boys—some of them might know what vafanculo means). Unremarkable but ample antipasti, panini, pasta plates, and salads round out the menu. —Mike Sula

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Agenda Teaser

Music
The Internet, Moonchild House of Blues
December 10
Performing Arts
Manic Mondays Frances Cocktail Lounge
November 20

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories