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First Impressions

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First Impressions

Tomboy proprietor Jody Andre has teamed up with chef Gil Langlois (Technicolor Kitchen, Pepper Lounge) to debut THE ROOM, an Edgewater eatery serving Langlois' eclectic contemporary American cuisine. They've transformed a corner storefront into a large, stylish dining room with amber faux-weathered floors, salmon leather banquettes, exposed brick walls, and graceful floor-to-ceiling silk curtains dividing the bar from the tables. The music and art are more subtle than that at Tomboy, and the food is decidedly more sophisticated. Dishes are intended to be ordered tapas style: the menu offers a dozen intriguing small plates (dubbed either "petit" or "mid"), like seared scallops--three nicely browned tender morsels, one resting on a round of silky sweet-pea custard, another on a disc of polenta, and the third drizzled with a sweet balsamic reduction and dotted with sirachi chili sauce for kick. Another capable small plate is the poached lobster in orange butter--set on a sensuous pool of caramelized balsamic anglaise, an interesting twist on the classic custard sauce--that's strangely mismatched with a salmon tartare topped with caviar. There's also a grilled pear and asparagus salad with creamy Gorgonzola sauce and chopped walnuts. The entree-size "grand" plates include several more approachable dishes; there's an herbes de Provence roasted free-range chicken with smoked cheddar risotto, a New York strip, and a slightly doughy but tasty wild mushroom and fresh herb Wellington served with sauteed spinach and a savory mustard hollandaise. Most servers spent the past month training at Tomboy, and they're friendly and efficient. It's BYO indefinitely, but there's a decent wine shop only blocks away. The Room is at 5900 N. Broadway, 773-989-7666.

Far west on North Avenue is the upscale SPARACINO RISTORANTE, owned and operated by siblings Mark and Steffania Sparacino. Both hail from Topo Gigio--he was a server, she was a hostess--and they've dedicated two-thirds of this huge space to the kitchen, from which Mark also operates his five-year-old catering company, Traveling Fare. The 45-seat dining room is handsomely appointed, with dark oak wainscoting, cream-colored walls, and an antique carved wood bar at the back. Antipasti are reminiscent of the sophisticated classics Mark cooked for a year at the long-defunct Avanzare: escargot comes out of the shell and into the saute pan with strips of proscuitto and a luscious, almost too-rich brandy cream sauce, and rolled eggplant stuffed with ricotta and goat cheese is finished with a refined tomato sauce. Flavors get too complicated in the carpaccio; perfectly tender slices of paper-thin raw beef are overwhelmed by three powerhouse treatments--a balsamic vinegar reduction, briny capers, and shards of Parmigiano Reggiano. For the primi piatti, there are tempting pasta dishes like orecchiette with broccoli and pesto, tortalacci smothered in four cheeses, and a vibrant linguine tossed with sun-dried tomatoes, cremini mushrooms, fresh spinach, and cherry tomatoes. Second entrees include a fresh pan-seared halibut in a Sicilian orange sauce with blood orange segments and a delicate marinated rack of lamb on a bed of mashed potatoes with a nicely balanced port and caramelized onion reduction. Save room for the desserts--cheesecake is something I generally stay away from, but the version here made me a fan (varieties range from mocha one night to fig another). Other offerings might include a star anise creme brulee or a molten chocolate cake. The room's small enough that everyone feels like a personal guest of the family. BYO. Sparacino is at 6966 W. North, 773-836-2089.

Oz Schoenstadt, best known for the venerable Oz Bar (which closed in '93), is back with the LAKEVIEW SUPPER CLUB, an upscale contemporary American restaurant that promises to be a wine destination. Having operated Harvest on Huron for four years, he's now partnering with his daughter Rose, who also worked at Harvest. They've converted the space on Belmont near Racine formerly occupied by Riccardo's, adding soft lighting from colorful blown-glass wall sconces and textured faux-finished walls; they've also redecorated the outdoor patio, which is as large as the dining room (and slated to open June 12). Chef Michael Tsonton showed glimpses of culinary ingenuity at the short-lived Brio and the over-the-top Tizi Melloul, but he's hit his stride with this seasonally driven menu. You can easily dine on the starters alone--there are more than a dozen nicely prepared small dishes (including many vegetarian options), like a beautifully arranged vegetable terrine comprised of layers of peppers, carrots, and asparagus served with a marmalade of finely diced fennel, or veal empanadillas, two flaky half-moons stuffed with shredded veal and accompanied by a zinfandel jelly and sauce soubise (a thick sweet onion bechamel). The whimsical "fish sticks" are lightly breaded red snapper fingers and strips of fried calamari (which might have been better grilled) served with a watercress remoulade in lieu of tartar sauce. Entrees range from the simple (a thick-cut rib eye with a red wine and shallot reduction, an oven-roasted young chicken with tomatoes and olives) to the refined (wild striped bass served with Manila clams on a bed of red and yellow peppers). While the focus is ostensibly the food, the wine assortment is also exquisite. Bottles are sparsely allocated, and the list will change frequently; right now there's a '98 Kistler chardonnay, a '98 Morgan syrah, and two Turley wines, a '98 Aida petit syrah and a '98 zinfandel. They'll pour half bottles for half price, a nice option for those who want just a taste or variety with each course. The Lakeview Supper Club is at 1232 W. Belmont, 773-975-0095.

--Laura Levy Shatkin

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

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