The Affordable Enoteca, the Basque Tinge, and Tapas for the Ravenous | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

The Affordable Enoteca, the Basque Tinge, and Tapas for the Ravenous 

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Quartino

626 N. State

312-698-5000

The latest venture from the owners of Gibsons Steakhouse and Hugo's Frog Bar, Quartino takes its cue from Italy's enoteche, wine bars that serve small plates of everything from antipasti to beef tenderloin. Chef John Coletta (formerly of Carlucci) 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, mostarda (fruit candied with a touch of mustard seed), and sweet-and-sour cucumbers. 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. Angus beef carpaccio, paired with celery and shaved Parmesan, was silky and subtle. 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. Best of all, Quartino is surprisingly affordable, especially compared to its neighbor, Enoteca at Osteria Via Stato. Lunch service here will begin February 7. --Heather Kenny

Haro

2436 S. Oakley

773-847-2400

A tapas bar that's oddly situated in an Italian block of Heart of Chicago--what I think of as Littlest Italy--Haro, which opened just a few weeks ago, should attract new customers to the charming red-sauce restaurants around it. Unfortunately, that may be what it does best. On a snowy evening last week, we were enthusiastically greeted house-party style by the hostess ("And what are your names?") before being pumped for demographic data ("And where did you hear of us?"). Haro is new and nervous, and it shows: although the small restaurant was only half full, when we asked to be moved away from the flamenco guitarist, our waiter hemmed and hawed for a minute before saying, basically, whatever. (We moved ourselves.) The menu has a few novel Basque touches--baby eels, pintxos (Basque open-faced sandwiches), a few hard-to-find Basque white wines--but is otherwise a dozen or so cold and hot tapas, with a trio of entree-size plates for those unwilling to share. House-marinated olives were well done, but then we hit a bad stretch: white anchovies were rubbery and tasteless, and the serrano-wrapped sea scallops with saffron aioli--a combination that looked delectable in print--should have been served unwrapped and segregated. A prime rib-eye skewer with a few dipping sauces (including a Cabrales demi-glace that divided the table between "yummy" and "a little fast foody") was perfectly cooked but boring--I can think of a few hundred tastier ways to spend a ten spot. The fennel-orange stew accompanying the blood sausage might have been more exciting raw, but the sausage, along with a few meatballs in a a spicy Spanish tomato sauce--a simple but satisfying plate--were the highlights of the meal. And the hostess? She never used our names. --Nicholas Day

People Lounge

1560 N. Milwaukee

773-227-9339

I showed up at People Lounge the other night with a growling belly and a worried mind. "I'm too hungry for tapas!" I moaned to my friends. But as it turned out, this modest new late-night place serves a brief menu of tweaked Spanish classics that'll take the edge off the most gnawing hunger--especially when washed down with a glass of full-bodied red or white sangria. Located in the long, narrow storefront that used to be Hito Food and Liquors, it's more bar than restaurant, with an abbreviated selection of wines by the glass (two white, six red) and 25 international beers on tap, including a wide selection of Belgian ales such as the pirate-themed Piraat (my favorite) and the ever popular Delirium Tremens. The tortilla espanola, which I've often seen prepared more like an omelet, here comes as a rich, hearty wedge of egg-and-potato galette topped with a generous dollop of mild, artery-stopping aioli. Another standard, gambas a la plancha, was a skewer of firm, juicy grilled shrimp over couscous flecked with raisins; a cold plate of citrus-and-vodka-cured salmon was tangy with lemon and doused with black pepper. At $12, the paella is the most expensive thing on the menu, but it's meant for two, a generous bowl of creamy, al dente saffron rice heaped with mussels, shrimp, and smoky Spanish chorizo. The worst I can say about it is that it was kind of bland and heavy on the peas. Desserts include a delicate flan served with a wisp of berry sauce and an ample helping of apple tart with creme fraiche. The creation of owner Baris Yuksel, a 29-year-old former management consultant, People bills itself as a "world music lounge"--there's live acid jazz on Thursdays (consider yourself warned), and on other nights DJs spin everything from bossa nova to Euro dance music. About halfway between Francesca's Forno and Rodan on Milwaukee, People Lounge marries the former's rustic Mediterranean aesthetic--communal dark wood tables, heavy iron chandeliers--with the latter's clean, low-key, clubby feel. Between these places, not to mention Del Toro and Bin Wine Cafe, there's at least one block in Chicago where it's getting hard to go hungry late

at night. --Martha Bayne

Other recent openings

May Street Market, 1132 W. Grand, 312-421-5547

Il Mulino, 1150 N. Dearborn, 312-440-8888

Sola, 3868 N. Lincoln, 773-327-3868

Closed

Settimana Cafe

Trio Atelier

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Rob Warner.

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