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Opening Remarks

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Miae Lim and Doug Kane, the former owners of Big Wig down the street, opened Mirai Sushi, a stylish sushi and sake bar, in late December. The two-story glass facade sets the tone for the softly lit, minimalist space inside. The ambitious menu includes nigiri and maki sushi, daily fish specials, and several unique creations. The ise ebi, for example, is a lobster, seaweed, and lotus root salad attractively set in a lobster tail shell and topped with a half-opened quail egg that's meant to be poured over the dish. The sakana carpaccio moriawase is a nice take on the traditional Italian dish--thinly sliced tuna, salmon, and whitefish fan out like spokes from the garnish of capers and sprigs of cilantro in the center. It's a great way for sushi novices to sample raw fish that's not sliced into thick chunks. The sushi menu is also available upstairs, where there's a small bar and ten or so tables, but the second story is mainly a lounge with late-night hours and a DJ on weekends. Mirai Sushi, 2020 W. Division, 773-862-8500.

Manuel Aguilar spent years cooking in Chicago's finest steak houses--14 at the Palm during its heyday on Oak Street followed by 4 at Erie Cafe (where he still works days). In late November he opened Mi Ciudad, a charming storefront restaurant featuring his native Ecuadoran cuisine as well as steaks and pasta. Service is warm and gracious, and it's a family affair--Aguilar's wife helps in the kitchen while his nephew mans the front of the house and his daughters wait tables and tend bar. Appetizers include a torta de chodo con queso, a sweet fresh corn pancake topped with melted cheese; a fresh shrimp ceviche; and his own version of empanadas--hand-rolled dough stuffed with mildly seasoned meat and deep-fried to a crispy finish. Melted cheese is again an option here--it's an Ecuadoran custom many adore but I could do without. The piquant green tomatillo salsa found on each table makes a great alternative topping. Meat entrees include six different steak preparations, plus lengua estofada, beef tongue in a mani (peanut) sauce. Other entrees include a variety of straightforward chicken and pasta dishes, and some more creatively conceived seafood options. The chupe de camarones, for example, is a succulent serving of pan-seared jumbo shrimp with green plantains and yuca in a savory cumin-scented mani sauce. Mi Ciudad also offers a wide variety of fresh fruit juices and shakes (everything from banana to sweet tomato) and several Ecuadoran beers and sodas. Mi Ciudad, 3041 W. Irving Park, 773-866-2066.

Restaurateur Dan Sachs and wine director Brian Duncan (Spruce) just opened Bin 36--a unique hybrid of retail wine store, casual bar, and formal restaurant--that aims to demystify the process of matching wine with food. It's tucked in Marina City behind the House of Blues hotel, and curved racks of wine divide the retail corner from the casual "tavern" section, giving the airy space a sleek, seamless flow. The tavern serves tasting portions of light, eclectic fare that ranges from olives and pate to ahi tuna carpaccio. The "cellar," or full-service dining room, is under a lofted second-story private dining room and separated from the tavern by a circular zinc-topped bar. Off-white walls offset by rust curtains and cherry wood trim provide a clean, brightly lit backdrop for Bernard Laskowski's (Four Seasons, Everest) American bistro menu. The dishes are straightforwardly prepared--the diver sea scallop appetizer comes simply on a bed of French green lentils studded with tender but hearty braised oxtail; several fillets of crispy striped bass are served skin-side up on a generous bed of potatoes mashed with pungent kalamata olives. The vast selection of wines by the glass (50 in all) is organized into groups of four or five related wines with associated "Bin #'s," several of which appear on the menu next to each dish. Intrabin flights of two-and-a-half-ounce tasting portions are also available. A first-class cheese selection, on display near the exposed kitchen, features the expected Brillat Savarin, triple-cream St. Andre, and Stilton, but there are also several exceptional goat cheeses--Capriole chevre banon wrapped in chestnut leaves, Spanish Cabra de Murchia, and Cypress Grove goat cheddar. Servers are knowledgeable and, of course, wine savvy. Bin 36, 339 N. Dearborn, 312-755-9463.

The Dish

Grab your last haute organic meal--chef Charles Warshawsky departed Earth in December, and the restaurant plans to close its doors early this year.

The proprietors of the Damen have joined forces with chef Alessandro Forti of La Donna to reinvent the bar as Red, a wine bar that shares a kitchen with adjoining Sipario Ristorante, at 1958 W. Roscoe.

Munch, a casual American cafe that opened for breakfast and lunch on December 7 in the 1800 W. Grand space recently vacated by Wishbone, is now open for dinner.

Chef Scott Helm called to set us straight on his past, reported somewhat erroneously last week in a story on the tequila bar at Adobo Grill. While Helm has worked with Rick Bayless, it was at Zinfandel, not Frontera, and he did time with Gordon Sinclair, but at Cafe Gordon, not Gordon.

--Laura Levy Shatkin

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.

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