What Else is New | Essay | Chicago Reader

What Else is New 

Twenty more recent openings

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Restaurant listings are compiled by Kate Schmidt from the Reader Restaurant Finder, an online database of more than 3,500 Chicago-area restaurants. Please submit new listings or updates (include phone numbers) to restaurants@chicagoreader.com or Restaurant Listings, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611. Restaurants are reviewed by Reader staff and contributors and (where noted) individual Raters. Though reviewers try to reflect the Restaurant Raters' input, reviews should be considered one person's opinion; the collective Raters' opinions are best expressed in the numbers. The complete listings and information on how to become a Reader Restaurant Rater are available at chicagoreader.com/restaurantfinder.

What Else Is New

Twenty more recent openings

Al Primo Canto

5414 W. Devon | 773-631-0100

$$$$

Latin American, Italian | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday; sunday brunch | Closed Monday | Open late: Thursday-Saturday till 11

Georges Elbekai, a former partner in Semiramis, spent two years developing this Brazilian galeteria specializing in galeto al primo canto, marinated young grilled chicken (the stunning stainless steel churrasco was imported from Brazil). The menu reflects Brazil's multiethnic composition, starting with rich, silky eggplant caponatto (baba ghanoush) served with warm Lebanese-style pita and cheese bread. For $29.95, an all-you-can-eat "endless feast" comes to the table, beginning with a delightfully crisp polenta frita topped with Parmigiano Reggiano and pasta with three sauces (funghi, marinari, and aioli). Then comes the meat: crisp-skinned, flavorful chicken, tender grilled beef tenderloin, and luscious marinated lamb. Salads are nicely composed, and sides include cloud-light cheese puffs, seasonal vegetables, and crunchy double-cooked potatoes with an addictive Gorgonzola sauce. Under talented Brazilian-born chef Luciana Godoy desserts are a highlight as well: classic vanilla flan, warm guava cake with mascarpone sauce, and nutmeg-dusted acorn squash with

cinnamon ice cream and caramel sauce, the topper. There are no sword-toting tarted-up gauchos to trouble you, and in all Al Primo Canto offers the churrascaria experience in a significantly more civilized manner than other spots for a lower price. The restaurant is now offering an a la carte menu and Sunday brunch. Gary Wiviott

Bbop

3952 N. Sheridan | 773-868-0828

$

Asian, Korean | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till 11 | Reservations not accepted | BYO

Attempts to make Korean food less intimidating to non-Koreans are typically directed at a demographic more impressed by hipster sojutini gimmickry than food (see Jin Jiu, the late Soju, and the new Su-ra). Another avenue is no-frills, bulgogi-and- rice-slinging fast food. Bbop, in the shadow of the Sheridan Red Line stop, takes the latter turn, with a stripped-down, mostly take-out operation focusing on the basics--marinated meats and rice, bi bim bop, soup, and cellophane noodles and vegetables. The food is greasy, hot, and plentifully portioned, cooked guerrilla style by scruffy young dudes in a tiny open kitchen. There are three shaky-looking tables in the narrow fluorescent-lit storefront, a caricature of Kim Jong Il in drag on the men's room door, and perhaps a few skateboards leaning against the wall. The food and surroundings are nothing to write home about, but it's cheap and fast and if you stop in you probably have someplace else to be anyway. Mike Sula

Between Boutique Cafe & Lounge

1324 N. Milwaukee | 773-292-0585

$$$

Bar/Lounge, Small Plates, Global/ Fusion/Eclectic | Dinner: Tuesday-Sunday | Closed Monday | Open late: Saturday till 3; sunday, tuesday-friday till 2

Deep red walls and red brocade chandeliers, cloistered alcoves outfitted with cushy sofas and sweeping fringe curtains, candles on every table, and orchids on every plate: sexy, romantic Between Boutique Cafe & Lounge seems designed to seal the deal. The late-night lounge serves booze-spiked bubble teas and a now expanded menu of luxurious small plates created by chef Radhika Desai, formerly sous chef at Vermilion. Sweet Heat Shrimp was five juicy grilled crustaceans glazed with a tangy sauce of garlic, curry, and honey; the Between Green salad was an ample portion of mixed greens spiked with avocado, mushrooms, candied cashews, and caramelized onions. Baturas are a house specialty, a twist on the Punjabi classic made with crispy fried bread stuffed with spicy ground beef, shiitakes, and scallions. At $18 the lobster trifecta--a trio of bisque, risotto cakes, and fresh lobster salad--is the most expensive thing on the menu; the bisque was ethereal perfection, rich, light, and ever-so-slightly sweet. Martha Bayne

The Bluebird

1749 N. Damen | 773-486-2473

$$

Bar/Lounge, Small Plates, American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till 1 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

Want some bacon with your porchetta? On the menu at the Bluebird, a new late-night lounge/wine bar/gastropub from the owners of Webster's Wine Bar, it's hard to find anything not spiked with smoked pig. An otherwise relatively sane addition to the nightlife corridor stretching up Damen from the Wicker Park crotch, Bluebird's a pleasantly understated space, outfitted in a sort of rustic-minimalist vein, with tables made from old wine casks and stools reminiscent of high school chem lab. On a Sunday night at least, it's a nice mellow scene. For the most part the starters are great--lots of cured meats and funky cheeses, salads, flatbreads, and so on. The classic frites, simultaneously crispy and floppy and served with little cups of addictive curried ketchup and garlic aioli, are no-brainer perfection. But a crab salad with arugula and watercress was bland (except for the bacon bits), and heartier main plates were a mixed bag. There's a satisfying bowl of beer-braised rabbit with shallots, mushrooms, and (surprise) bacon over fettuccine. But a flap steak with marrow butter and parsley toasts was pretty undistinguished, and the brined and smoked "baconed pork chop" tasted of nothing but smoke and salt--though maybe my taste buds were just numb by then. The wine list is organized by "climate"--IMHO a fairly useless conceit--but the by-the-glass options we tried were excellent. The extensive beer list is sophisticated and heavy on the Belgians. Martha Bayne

Cafe 103

1909 W. 103rd | 773-238-5115

$$$$

American Contemporary/Regional, Global/Fusion/Eclectic | Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Sunday, Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | BYO

Thomas Eckert, formerly of the Indian-fusion spots Vermilion and Monsoon, heads the kitchen at this tiny new seasonally focused BYO in Beverly, run by the owners of Beverly's Pantry next door. Traces of his old jobs show up all over the menu--pheasant-breast risotto was flecked with tandoori-spiced sea salt, garam masala, and methi leaves. An entree of farmer's cheese and sous-vide vegetables had a creamy shrikhand saag dressing, and the cheese itself was indistinguishable from a big block of Indian paneer. The whipped cream on a "banana split," with caramelized banana and a trio of gelati, was also laced with garam masala. Competing flavors sometimes get away from Eckert, as in a confusing starter of melon balls topped with prosciutto, microtarragon, and an Alaskan king crab leg, floating in a salty coconut broth. Simpler dishes, like a curried corn chowder with tapioca pearls and lemon custard and a grilled sturgeon with mashed sweet potatoes and oxtail ragout, were complete knockouts, and a cheesecake with peaches and basil leaves alone was worth my trek down to 103rd Street. Prices are high for a BYO, with entrees averaging $24, but Cafe 103 is a worthy contender to Koda, till now the only upscale choice in the area. Tasneem Paghdiwala

CJ's Eatery

3839 W. Grand | 773-292-0990

$$

American, Southern/Soul Food, Mexican/ Southwestern | Breakfast, Lunch: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday; Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday; Saturday & Sunday brunch | Closed Monday | BYO

Bright, spacious, and friendly CJ's Eatery might do for west Humboldt Park what the original Wishbone did for another desolate stretch of Grand Avenue in the 90s: grow into a vital community hub while serving solid southern and soul-inspired comfort food. Charles Armstead and Vanessa Perez have filled a couple deep voids already, providing a Lavazza-dispensing coffee bar and sit-down table service for three squares in a neighborhood where the only other viable eats are at Jimmy's Red Hots around the corner. Breakfast is a steal: an egg-and-chorizo burrito or biscuits and gravy are just $3.50; French toast and a hangover-blanketing sausage casserole don't go much higher. Sandwiches predominate at lunch, along with a few entrees (barbecued pork steak, four-cheese mac), soups, salads, and a handful of appetizers (crab cakes, spinach dip) that pull a double shift at dinner. Entrees include a chile-rubbed sirloin with southern-fried corn and a "BBQ Meatloaf Tower" crowned with mashed potatoes and fried onions. At a recent lazy Sunday brunch, carb loading was accomplished with a special of shrimp and creamy grits and a banana bread pudding with peanut butter creme anglaise that could've raised Elvis off the bathroom floor. Mike Sula

English

444 N. LaSalle | 312-222-6200

$$$

Bar/Lounge, American Contemporary/ Regional | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 1, other nights till midnight

Chicago's kudzulike gastropub invasion continues with this handsome new River North spot from the folks behind the Bar Celona and Grand Central. But when the food is this decent, why carp at the trend? Housed in a vintage three-story building that manages to be both chic and pretty comfy, English has a large bar and several tables for groups on the first floor and a handful of pool tables and booths on the second. The English Crisps appetizer is a huge platter of waffle-cut fries heaped with shredded pork, cheese, red cabbage, scallions, and sour cream. It was certainly snackable (and perfect for sharing) but despite the pile of ingredients it lacked oomph, and the fries were rather soggy. Things improved dramatically when the entrees arrived: the roast chicken was pronounced "nearly orgasmic" by my friend. Tender but with exquisitely crispy skin, it was accompanied by chunky mashed potatoes and roast carrots--a simple dish but very satisfying. The fish-and-chips were just as good; salty shoestring potatoes and generous pieces of battered fish that tasted fresher and less greasy than they usually do elsewhere. Among the drinks don't pass up the Pimm's Cup, a refreshing mix of Pimm's liqueur, gin, soda water, and fresh fruit. Prices are very reasonable so beware: English is already packed with boisterous happy-hour suits in the evenings. Expect a noisy nosh. Rob Christopher

Fat Cat

4840 N. Broadway | 773-506-3100

$

Bar/Lounge, American | Dinner: seven days; Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: saturday till 3, other nights till 2 | Reservations not accepted

the plague of the flat-panel television! It's what prevents a lounge like Fat Cat, with its 20s-and-30s-inspired lighting fixtures, curved booths, and elegant wood bar, from being the handsome, wholly comfortable spot it could be. On the other hand, one of the TVs was showing The Thin Man Goes Home, so I can't be too unforgiving. And the food and drinks are way above average. An excellent selection of beers on tap and in bottles is supplemented by a whimsical cocktail list. Try the Prohibition, a multihued variation on the Rum Runner that goes down smoothly. On the food side, burgers, salads, and Cuban pork belly sandwiches are all good bets. There are also creative appetizers like fried mac 'n' cheese and Reuben balls, bundles of corned beef and Swiss rolled inside rye dough and then deep-fried. The waitstaff is quite friendly without being obnoxious, and the large space easily accommodates groups. Rob Christopher

Il Fiasco

5101 N. Clark | 773-769-9700

$$

Italian | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

There's one thing I have to hand to Il Fiasco: it provides the most delicious-looking jar of dog biscuits I've seen sitting outside an Andersonville Italian restaurant. With the neighborhood resembling a nuovo Little Italy more and more with each passing day, you'd think one of these places would raise the stakes and try to be surprising, or God forbid, as exceptional as local Sicilian bakery Pasticerria Natalina. With that exception, there's a proliferation of the average, about which the best that can be said is that they are mostly inexpensive. Il Fiasco, in the space where Rioja and Atlantique died, is certainly affordable--no entree tops $19, and most pizzas and pastas don't rise above $12. Chef Philip Reed, who's cooked in Tuscany, is no greenhorn, but his dishes sprawl across the place-mat menu and more vaguely across the regions--Bolognese sauce here, Sicilian marsala there, Lombardy's Gorgonzola there, there, and there--though I'm hornswoggled about where jalapeno gnocchi are supposed to come from. Maybe that overextension is why nearly everything I sampled seemed aggressively unexceptional, from the bacon-wrapped dates to the mashed potatoes served at room temperature with a pork tenderloin on the tough side. Sauteed scallops were chewy, a sweet pea puree muscled out lamb chops, and pasta shells with sausage were bogged down in marinara. A bright spot: in a city where the appreciation for quality authentic Italian pizza grows every time someone lights a fire, the margherita more than held its own. Mike Sula

Jerry's

1938 W. Division | 773-235-1006

$

Bar/Lounge, American, Burgers | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

I don't know why a sandwich of smoked salmon, avocado, cheddar, and spicy chutney would be named the "Groucho M" or a combo of turkey meat loaf, bacon, peppers, and southwest mayo the "Edith P." I only know that they are awesome, especially with a side of smoky mac 'n' cheese (two sides come with every order). There are more than 100 sandwiches on the menu at Jerry's, 500 or so considering bread choices--pretzel roll, brioche, focaccia, ciabatta, plus regular white, wheat, and rye. Or make your own from the "Bumsteadian lineup" of fillings and condiments--do corned beef, strawberry jam, and feta go well on multigrain? You tell me! If not, wash it down with something off the equally huge and eclectic beer list; it's the best thing this side of Armitage, with nice picks from New Holland, Ommegang, and Victory. There's also coffee from Metropolis and a handful of desserts every night--if there's a chocolate mousse cake when you go, get it (get two). I've heard complaints about service--the place looks a bit snooty and was disorganized in its earliest weeks--but everything was copacetic at the bar, where the full menu is served. There's outdoor seating too, but there you risk getting mowed down by yuppies and their dogs on their way to Crust. Tasneem Paghdiwala

Mexx Kitchen at the Whiskey

1015 N. Rush | 312-475-0300

$$$$

Bar/Lounge, Mexican/Southwestern | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, other nights till 11

Star chef Richard Sandoval of Modern Mexican--the group behind luxe nuevo Latino restaurants such as New York's Maya and Pampano and Las Vegas's Isla--collaborated on this cozy folk-art-decorated room tucked behind Rush Street's see-and-be-seen Whiskey Bar. Problem is, Mexx Kitchen has an identity crisis. Servers are fine with beverages--many tequilas, margaritas, cocktails, and beers--but less adept at pacing meals. The menu is divided between marginally upscale renditions of Mexican favorites and much more sophisticated fare. Well-balanced guacamole with crisp chips would be at home in a neighborhood spot, as would chilorio sopes brimming with pulled pork, queso cotija, chopped lettuce, tomato, and crema fresco. Walleye ceviche swimming in guava-citrus sauce with diced watermelon, jicama, and mint was a refreshing alternative to everyday tomato-based versions. On the other hand, a trio of too-fragile, extremely salty Mexico City-style steak tacos made me wonder why I was spending $10 for what would cost half that at my local taqueria (where they have the sense to double up on the corn tortillas). The highlights came from the more sophisticated camp: creamy balsamic-painted roasted corn soup with a huitlacoche dumpling and a picture-perfect entree of seared coriander-chile-crusted tuna slices propped up around mashed boniato on a hibiscus-blood orange-habanero emulsion. Flaky banana dessert empanadas were fun but anticlimactic. Anne Spiselman

Niu Japanese Fusion Lounge

332 E. Ilinois | 312-527-2888

$$

Asian, Japanese | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11:30

Living up to the pun, Niu Japanese Fusion Lounge rolls out a new wave of innovative preparations that blend traditions and build on not typically Asian ingredients such as cilantro, avocado, and spicy mayo. Niu also serves up very fresh-tasting raw stuff in generous bowls of chirashi and nigiri available by the piece. Salmon is flown in daily from Norway, and every piece of sashimi we sampled carried the pristine kiss of the sea. Still, fusion dishes, though reasonably flavorful, seem to lack snap: popular jalapeno stuffed with crab and cream cheese tasted mostly of cream cheese, and fresh oysters on crunchy

garlic toast tasted mostly of crunchy

garlic toast. There are some exceptional sake options: a flight of three, ranging in intensity from cloudy and heavy to light and fruity, is an eye-opening introduction to the range achievable in rice wine; sake with Chambord successfully harmonized sharp and sweet notes and would work as either an aperitif or dessert beverage. Service is bright, friendly, and informative, and chef Jackson Mou (Nobu, Sai Cafe) has assembled an imaginative team in the kitchen. David Hammond

Noon Hour Grill

6930 N. Glenwood | 773-338-9494

$

American, korean, breakfast | breakfast, lunch: sunday-monday, wednesday-saturday; dinner: wednesday-saturday | closed tuesday | byo

A trip to Noon Hour Grill is like a visit to grandma's--if, unlike mine, your grandma was serene, a good cook, and listened to classical radio rather than Lawrence Welk. A small breakfast-and-lunch spot manned single-handedly by grill veteran Susie Lee, it offers an appealing mix of Korean standards and American breakfast fare. Omelets range from bulgogi to bologna and cheese to ginger, garlic, and carrot; a cheesy Denver came with toast and golden hash browns (you can substitute rice). I went for the pajun (Korean pancake), light, savory, and served with a killer homemade jalapeno soy sauce. Susie's bi bim bop is famous in the neighborhood (she ran a restaurant in Rogers Park before relocating to Irving Park Road for a number of years), and while the rice crust wasn't as crispy as the best I've had and the fried egg could have been runnier, it was satisfying, down-home comfort food. Other entrees include kalbi, chop chae, filling soups, and fried rice, and there are daily specials both in-house and to go. Kate Schmidt

Otom

951 W. Fulton | 312-491-5804

$$$

American american, Contemporary/ Regional | Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, Monday-Thursday till 11

If every move Homaro Cantu makes for the rest of his young life isn't burdened by the expectation of sharks with frickin' laser beams on their heads, he'll be a lucky cookie. So I wondered if the early indifferent reports about Otom, Moto's loungey little sister, were a matter of his high-tech asylum lowering the property values of his bungalow next door. Nah--Otom had real problems. Moto's former sous chef Daryl Nash came on late in the game, burdened with a program of upscale comfort food--already the most cliched kitchen reality show plotline ever. The relatively affordable new menu, perhaps designed to exploit the sizable population that departs Moto feeling peckish and poor, has plenty of riffs on grandma's repertoire: potpie with egg noodles, apricot ribs with slaw and pickles, grilled sirloin with mashed potatoes. But sea bass with grits and ham hocks was tough, overseared fish mounted on too-salty greens and pork. Items that didn't disappoint still failed to impress: brasiola, apple, and arugula salad was a formidable pile of shrubbery mined with chewy bits of cured meat and julienned fruit; mac 'n' cheese with anise and andouille in a cast-iron trough was filling if forgettable. But Cantu-esque theatrics livened up dessert: a scoop of vanilla ice cream slowly sinks its way through a pastry pagoda roof until it plops into the stewed cherries below. Voila!--cobbler. On the brightest possible side, the waitstaff crack encyclopedic about the tiny menu and more rounded wine list, no doubt under the tutelage of the excellent sommelier who produced a perfect off-menu Rieslaner for the cobbler. Mike Sula

Piatto

5304 W. Devon | 773-467-2000

$$$

Italian | Dinner: seven days

Faith and begorra, the folks behind the Irish pub Moher have spawned Piatto, a surprisingly high-end Italian restaurant. The dining is comfortable and attractive, with well-spaced tables (a benefit of being in the "wilds" of Edgebrook), and there's a convivial bar and interesting if compact menu. An olive tapenade laced with roasted garlic and served gratis with a cruet of olive oil and crisp wedges of flatbread made for a smooth intro to a caprese salad with gorgeous summer tomatoes and just-fine fresh mozzarella. Calamari griglia, tender lightly grilled squid with a bit of char, were appetizing, though salmon carpaccio was a bit undersalted and bland. Papardelle all'anatra, topped by a roasted duck ragout with raisins, pine nuts, and mascarpone, is a hell of a dish, the pasta perfectly cooked and sauced with a light hand. Garganelli alla Bolognese was a bit less restrained, though at $16 enough for two coupled with a thin, crisp appetizer pizza. Of the secondi, veal Milanese, a pounded, breaded bone-in veal chop, was delectable, as was a trio of enormous head-and-shell-on grilled shrimp scampi, though both move into the $30 price range. The tender bone-in pork chop with lemon and olive oil is a tasty, less-budget-breaking option. House-made cannoli and tiramisu and a reasonably priced wine list add to the solidity of this new northwest-side option. Gary Wiviott

Pomegranate

1633 Orrington, Evanston | 847-475-6002

$

Middle Eastern, Mediterranean | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Reservations not accepted | BYO

The longtime owner of Hyde Park's the Nile is behind this less formal Middle Eastern spot on Orrington Avenue. It's clearly designed with Northwestern students in mind, with counter service and ultracheap prices, but the food's surprisingly good. Salads--Jerusalem, fattoush, tabbouleh--are fresh, and the red lentil soup is a complete steal at $1.85 for a nice-size cup. A combo plate of hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel, and cinnamony stuffed grape leaves is just $5. There are the usual sandwiches in thin pita wraps, like falafel and kefta kebab, and a signature "steak in a sack," an open-faced steak pileup with loads of onions and a flavorful sauce. Platters come with a skewer of roasted veggies, pita, and disappointingly Uncle Ben's-ish yellow rice. The meat's juicy and nicely spiced though. Baklava, rice pudding, and harissa (a semolina-flour cake dosed with simple syrup) round out dessert. Tasneem Paghdiwala

Sepia

123 N. Jefferson | 312-441-1920

$$$$

American Contemporary/Regional | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days

Opening hype can strain any restaurant, but Emmanuel Nony's Sepia, just around the corner from Blackbird, is holding up quite well. Creative chef Kendal Duque (Everest, Tru, NoMi) is running the kitchen, and out front savvy servers seem happy to be there. Two of the ten appetizers ($8-$13) suggest the chef's range: nuggets of moist rabbit paired with delicate ricotta dumplings in a Riesling reduction are minimalism made edible, while ultratender charred octopus piled on a toasted baguette slice in tomato sauce is as robust and rustic as the cast-iron pot it comes in. The succulent slow-baked veal breast on wide, lightly minted noodles ($23) has become a signature entree not simply by default (what other trendy restaurants serve veal breast?) but because it's delicious. I also liked the thick Berkshire pork chop complemented by crunchy pickled wild onions ($25). Dry flourless chocolate cake without the promised mint ganache was a disappointment; sage-lemon bread pudding, on the other hand, was like the best French toast ever, and I loved the melting sweet corn and blackberry jam ice cream. The eclectic, affordable wine list ($30-$80 bottles, $8-$12 by the glass) rounded out an enjoyable experience. Anne Spiselman

Shikago

190 S. LaSalle | 312-781-7300

$$$$

Asian, Japanese | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Open late: Saturday till 11

Shikago, the most recent venture from Kevin Shikami (Jimmy's Place, Confusion, Kevin), is at ground level in the canyon that is the LaSalle Street financial district. On a relatively slow Saturday night, we were rendered breathless by dish after memorable dish. Roasted quail with braised radish, hazelnuts, garlic chives, a maiitake mushroom ragout, and Shaoshing wine sauce was remarkable, but even commonplace appetizers like tuna tartare and salmon maki with avocado and cilantro were brought to life by a caring hand and premium ingredients. The pan-Asian fusion entrees on the constantly changing menu created subtle harmonies: red snapper in a sweet galangal sauce balanced slightly bitter Chinese broccoli and earthy chanterelles; sugary bulgogi was paired with delicately sharp daikon, peppery arugula, and scallion pancake straws; Alaskan salmon, sweetened with papaya, was perked up with lemongrass and peekytoe crab slivers in flowery jasmine rice. Flavors amplify one another in a lime semifreddo served with a nectarine tart, and the pineapple trio displayed variations worthy of a Bach fugue: vanilla-poached and soy-caramelized pineapple, a cinnamon-sugar pineapple "doughnut," and a refreshing pineapple-cinnamon sorbet. Though sophisticated, this place puts on no airs: tables are cross sections of centuries-old trees and the decor is Zen-like. There's a take-out counter at lunchtime. David Hammond

Su-ra

2257 W. North | 773-276-9450

$$$

Asian, Korean | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Reservations not accepted | BYO

Korean is one of the ballsiest cuisines around, and I've always felt that the best in Chicago is served by dour middle-aged women in stark, forbidding, overlit interiors. Still, I'm happy to see attempts to make it more accessible to the tenderfoot. If that means designing slick spaces with open kitchens and hip-hop soundtracks and replacing ajummas with soft-handed pretty boys in tight black shirts, so be it. That's pretty much the scene at Wicker Park's well-intentioned Su-ra (not to be confused with the Thai-fusion Sura on Broadway), which hopes to further stack the deck by sprinkling buzzwords like seasonal, free range, and organic all over the menu. But if you're going to tout your heirloom pork you should able say what kind of beast it is (Berkshire? Mulefoot? Red Wattle?), and on my visit neither the waiter nor the chef could come up with an answer. And for all the conventional wisdom about excellent ingredients being half the battle, this pork was poorly executed, dry and overcooked in a barbecue special and in supersweet sauced dae ji bulgogi. In contrast, many components of other dishes were undercooked; black bean panchan were nearly unchewable, thick sliced vegetables in a battered cod appetizer hadn't reached al dente, and the seafood pancake (hae mul panjun) was a doughy discus of pasty batter. I enjoyed the dol sot bi bim bop with sirloin, which had nice textural complexity that included corn kernels and a combination of organic brown and white rice and barley. Despite that, the requisite crispy layer of rice seared to the bottom of the stone pot--the defining characteristic of this dish--was missing. With six different versions on the menu, bi bim bop is Su-ra's signature dish, but if the kitchen can't get something that basic right, the finest ingredients in the world won't help it. Mike Sula

Trattoria Trullo

4767 N. Lincoln | 773-506-0093

$$$

Italian | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, other nights till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

Giovanni de Nigris moved his Evanston trattoria into the abandoned kiddie-playground G.P. Franklin's but continues to specialize in the food of Puglia, with specialties of the region helpfully denoted on the menu. Grilled mixed seafood over white beans and rapini in a slightly peppery oil might have been an auspicious start if it had spent any recent quality time with a heat source. (In fact, this was a recurring problem with nearly everything ordered on a busy Thursday night.) One Pugliese dish, eggplant stuffed with spinach and bread crumbs, was dull and mushy, but pasta courses showed more promise, like the ur-Pugliese orecchiette with rapini and ziti with

white bean puree. Secondi were good enough but overshadowed by their accompaniments--a competently cooked halibut fillet was perched on a terrific, slightly tomatoey carnaroli risotto and a cheese-blanketed veal scallopini couldn't stand up to the simple, per-fectly cooked summer vegetables on the side. The wine list is heavy on Pugliese reds, and there's a deli case and retail operation in the front of the house that stocks cheeses, olives, pastas, and oils for takeaway. Mike Sula

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