Curried beef garnished with lemon leaves and roasted peanuts; (below) grilled eggplant stuffed with ground shrimp from Pasteur
“What’s going on with Pasteur?” Can’t tell you how many times we’ve been asked that question. Ever since the elegant Vietnamese spot closed in 2007, there have been periodic promises to return. Kim Nguyen, the owner, has finally spiffed up the bi-level Edgewater space (more open, more luxurious) and rededicated herself to the upscale French-Asian cooking that made the place a fixture for a decade. “We’re bringing back all the classic dishes,” says Nguyen. “Duck à l’orange. Shrimp saté. A whole red snapper.” As for us, we’re most excited about the return of the bo luc lac, a steak cut into cubes and then marinated and sautéed in French butter and red wine. That’s what’s going on with Pasteur. 5525 N. Broadway; 773-728-4800.
THE BUZZ: Urban Union
Recession be damned. Michael Shrader (Epic) and Jason Chan (Butter) tailored their small-plate spot to the lame economy. The result: simple dishes, such as mussels and clams, from a wood-burning oven and affordable wine for budget-minded diners. Others can plunk down from $50 to $75 apiece at a “community chef table” and get front-row seats as Shrader creates six courses at his whim. “This concept is not going to rule out anybody,” says Shrader, who proves his point by dining there every Sunday with his family. 1421 W. Taylor St.; 312-929-4302.
Wood-roasted snapper at Urban Union
THE BUZZ: Au Cheval
Everything Brendan Sodikoff touches—Gilt Bar, Maude’s Liquor Bar, Doughnut Vault—turns to gold. So this winter, we expect nothing less from the diner he modestly labels “rough around the edges.” While the counter-and-booth setup is not dapper, fancified dishes (potato hash with duck heart gravy) share menu space with unfussy fried bologna sandwiches and twice-fried chicken, which hits the grease once for flavor, once for crunch. “Twice-fried is obviously better,” Sodikoff says. Thus begins the greasy spoon craze. 800 W. Randolph St.
BUDGET: Serdika Cafe Pastry Restaurant
When it comes to warding off the winter blahs, we have just the ticket. Head to this cozy Bulgarian hideaway, complete with fireplace, wood paneling, and full bar, in a quiet section of Schiller Park. There’s even a big-screen TV showcasing bikini-clad cuties, but no one pays it much attention. Serdika is all about the food: belly-stuffing grub served in mountainous portions at gentle prices. Incorporating Slavic cuisine with touches of Turkey and Greece means heaps of meat but also lively salads sporting a fondness for feta.
An abundant showering of the mildly tangy cheese blankets the shopska salad, a lettuce-free mix of tomatoes, cukes, roasted peppers, and briny olives ($6). Bring along some friends to tackle the restaurant’s namesake salad, an antipasto-like bounty highlighted by a smoky eggplant spread, Russian potato salad, spicy sausage, and more ($10). A host of grilled meats includes chicken and pork shishlak (kebabs), sausages, schnitzels, and our fave, the Bear Claw, a hefty meatball stuffed with cheese, ham, pickles, and mushrooms ($9.50). Terrific fries too. Try to visit on a weekend, when young Bulgarians bring their kids and plenty of joie de vivre. 9439 W. Irving Park Rd., Schiller Park; 847-233-9003.
Photography: Anna Knott