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New at the southern edge of Lincoln Square is the stylish 70-seat bistro Tournesol. Owners Julie Palmer and Michael Smith collaborated with third partner Eric Aubriot on the menu, then brought aboard former North Pond sous chef Bob Zrenner to cook. The place is a labor of love; Palmer not only painted the chocolate brown walls and sewed the mesh-and-taupe window treatments but built the mirror frames and wine racks, rehabbed the bar, and refurbished the bathroom while Smith did the drywalling. The fare includes a smattering of Aubriot's favorite bistro dishes, like poached leeks in a red wine vinaigrette, mussels mariniere, onion tart, and one of the best Lyonnaise salads around. Entrees are impressive too, with many fine renditions of classics like steak frites, sauteed veal kidney in shallot cream sauce, and pan-seared trout in a caper brown butter. The luscious braised leg of rabbit, served in a rich whole-grain mustard sauce, is not to be missed, and there's a rotating vegetarian special. Custard fans won't want to pass up the trio--petite servings of creme brulee, pots de chocolat, and creme caramel, all just right. Professional servers are extremely attentive. It's still BYO, and prices are reasonable. Tournesol is at 4343 N. Lincoln, 773-477-8820.

It feels like a bar, but the Bucktown corner eatery Cloud Nine has a full and nicely executed menu, not to mention a thoughtful wine list. The slender space houses two rows of linen-topped tables and a refurbished old bar. A small lounge up front makes for comfortable waiting, although that's not an issue yet. Chef Lionel Reim II, a Napa Valley native who spent several years cooking in Mexico City, puts together some complex dishes in the tiny bar kitchen: There's a starter of seared sea scallops, delicately browned without being overcooked and resting on a fresh corn ragout with cilantro oil. An eight-ounce New Zealand filet mignon came cooked to the ordered medium rare, set in a pool of satiny green peppercorn sauce. General manager and former Tru bartender Emily Salyer takes her job seriously, tending to patrons like a pro. Wines by the glass include a refreshing 2000 Dopff Tokay pinot gris and a 1999 Onix Priorat grenache. Cloud Nine is at 1944 N. Oakley, 773-486-3900.

Logan Square's Buona Terra seems stamped out of same cookie cutter as the Mia Francesca chain: it serves pretty good food at reasonable prices in a compact space with the requisite exposed brick walls. That formula's not necessarily a bad thing; the caprese, fried calamari, and carpaccio with truffle oil and capers here are good--just not original. Chef-owner Jose "Chepe" Garcia spent ten years cooking at Tuscany on Taylor and a year as executive chef at Riva, and his angel hair with tomato basil sauce, gnocchi in a three-cheese sauce, and farfalle with asparagus, spinach, and ricotta are all priced under ten bucks and served in ample portions. To follow there are fewer than a dozen entrees, ranging from a roasted half chicken to veal in a sherry sauce to tournedos of beef in a portobello sauce. The front room can get cramped with people waiting at the small bar; the second room is a bit more spacious. Buona Terra is at 2535 N. California, 773-289-3800.

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

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