The Romanian Feast Is Movable, a Bar Becomes a Grill, and There's a Soiree in the Old She She Space | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

The Romanian Feast Is Movable, a Bar Becomes a Grill, and There's a Soiree in the Old She She Space 

Transformations

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Continental Cafe

3661 N. Elston

773-604-8500

We liked the amenities at the old Little Bucharest: the free limo service, the jazz duo, the alcoholic "holy water" that owner Branko Podrumedic animatedly proffered to one and all. The dark, gloomy atmosphere, however, would have suited an inn under the shadow of Castle Dracula. Continental Cafe, Podrumedic's new place, is worlds away from that--high ceilinged, airy, and modern. He's also added lighter food--salads, sandwiches, burgers--to the menu of hearty Romanian standbys, but you can still get ciorba de burta (tripe soup), mamaliga (polenta topped with feta and sour cream), and traditional grilled meats such as muschiulet de vita (marinated Romanian skirt steak). For appetizers we tried buffalo wings, which were meaty but not spicy, and icre a la Mediterana, a salty caviar spread. Entrees were tasty and, as is typical of Romanian food, very filling--especially the tochitura Moldoveneasca, a Moldavian pork stew in a savory red sauce. The crispy skin was the best part of rata pe varza, half a roast duck served on sweet-and-sour cabbage; on the side there was mamaliga rather than the promised mashed potatoes, but we preferred it and the waitress was so friendly that a fuss would have been out of place. Before dessert (apple strudel and a just-right creme caramel) a mellow Podrumedic, sans holy water, offered us coffee on the house. I got a shot of whiskey in mine, for old times' sake. --Jeffrey Felshman

Nick's Grill

51 S. Clark

312-621-0200

Originally located in the basement next door to Nick's Fishmarket, Nick's Grill has moved to a gussied-up ground-floor space that looks out on the flow of well-heeled humanity around Bank One Plaza (or Chase Square, or whatever). On weekdays between 5 and 7 PM bluepoint oysters--lush and remarkably clean tasting--are a buck apiece. Ahi tuna sashimi is ruby red and blissfully fresh, but the portion, about the size of a pack of gum, is lamentably small for $12. Lobster bisque ($6.95) is velvety, luxuriant, and perfectly complemented by a glass of medium-bodied Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc. On the menu you'll find grilled fish selections you can mix and match with seasonings. We liked the grouper with a green tea-basil crust, a subtle flavoring for a subtle fish. For carnivores there are a number of options including "Tuscan sliders," a pair of wee filet mignon sandwiches served with fresh-cut fries. There's an impressive wine list, though the by-the-glass prices seem a little steep. Still, when my dining companion sent back a Malescot Saint Exupery that he felt was pruney and slightly off, our server gladly brought him a Saint Francis Old Vines zin much more to his liking. --David Hammond

The Soiree

4539 N. Lincoln

773-293-3690

The Soiree, in the old She She space, has the same soothing atmosphere as its predecessor. A handsome crystal chandelier in the main dining room gives off a yellowish autumnal light, and the snug little bar practically begs for discreet conversation. Chef Daniel Vogel's menu covers a lot of ground: appetizers like crab cakes, mussels, diver scallops, and a roasted beet salad are complemented by heartier dishes like beef tenderloin with truffles, roasted halibut, duck, and pan-seared ahi tuna. At an excellent recent meal the roasted beets, both red and gold, came on a pool of cheese sauce with a nest of mixed greens--an unusual and nice marriage of flavors. The mussels were prime specimens, fat, flavorful, and redolent of their beer broth. Our entrees were even bigger hits. Steeped in veal stock and its own juices, the "humanely raised" osso buco was as good as I've had. The ravioli were al dente, almost crisp, but the sweet, flavorful squash stuffing went well with the bite of balsamic in the accompanying brown-butter reduction. For dessert we had a deconstructed bread pudding, cubes of lightly fried, appealingly chewy moistened bread topped with caramel sauce. Service was quietly efficient, and the wine list is top-notch, with several by-the-glass offerings between $7 and $10. --Chip Dudley

Other New Openings

Bin Wine Cafe, 1559 N. Milwaukee, 773-486-2230

Custom House, 500 S. Dearborn, 312-523-0200

Del Toro (formerly Mod), 1520 N. Damen, 773-252-1500

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

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