What’s New, What’s Coming, and What’s Cheap in Chicago Dining
Moderno in Highland Park, Piccolo Sogno Due, City Tavern, and Tandoor Char House
Piccolo Sogno Due’s squid ink spaghetti, tomatoes, and shellfish
John des Rosiers was at the Vatican when he saw a room painted an unusual shade of red. The paint was chipping, so he sneaked a sliver into his wallet in order to re-create the color for the ceiling of Moderno. “It was important to me that the color matched,” says des Rosiers (Inovasi, Wisma).
This fanatical attention to detail excites us about his new Highland Park spot—plus the presence of chef Phil Rubino (Spiaggia, L2O), who focuses on current dishes from Umbria, Tuscany, and Abruzzo. This means less familiar Italian fare, such as fluke sashimi with radishes, celery, and Sicilian bottarga (cured roe) that Rubino grates over the plate with a Microplane. It sounds 180 degrees from the space’s previous occupant, Rosebud—and that may be the whole idea. 1850 Second St., Highland Park; 847-433-8600.
Moderno’s fluke sashimi and bottarga
COMING SOON: Piccolo Sogno Due
Tony Priolo and Todd Stein, two of Chicago’s finest chefs, join forces in June at the sequel to Priolo’s Piccolo Sogno. The 132-seat space promises to be a paradise of branzino, tonno, polpo, and other Italian seafood; even the housemade bread will include squid ink.
This sounds refreshing, perhaps because Piccolo Sogno Due (Little Dream Two) will zig when the rest of Chicago is zagging. “It’s not a burger bar, it’s not small plates with cool beers and records, and it’s not a steak house,” says Stein (The Florentine). That does sound like a dream. A big one. 340 N. Clark St.; 312-822-0077.
COMING SOON: City Tavern
With diners swooning over comfort this and retro that, the folks behind Chicago Firehouse figured the South Loop needed something a bit 18th-century tavernesque. That seems to mean a fireplace, warm woods, and rich blue and slate tones as the backdrop for artisanal cheeses, cured meats, and in-house pâtés, as well as chef Kendal Duque’s elegant spins on Midwest faves like walleyed pike with cashew vinaigrette.
The libations of mixologist Peter Vestinos will encourage spirited conversation. Arriving on horseback, however, is discouraged. No hitching posts. 1416 S. Michigan Ave.
BUDGET: Tandoor Char House
Up for a rousing Indian-Pakistani meal but not, at the moment, for a trip to Devon Avenue? Check out this comfortably casual BYO spot in Lincoln Park. The owner, Faraz Sardharia, says his mother’s cooking was his inspiration (she’s from Pakistan; his father’s Indian), but the menu lists a few fun items not traditionally associated with either country: seasoned curly chat fries ($3) and crunchy chicken and vegetable spring rolls ($4 for two), for example.
The star of the show is the mixed grill platter ($18), a bountiful heap of boneless chicken and plump shrimp barbecued in a tandoor oven with spicy sausagelike pieces of charbroiled seekh kebab on a bed of onions and peppers, delivered sizzlin’ and smokin’ to your table. It comes with a side salad, a cooling yogurt raita, and a kicky dish of achar, a pickled carrot condiment. Frontier chicken ($13) is another fine choice, with its jalapeño-powered onion and masala mix providing fireworks. Any meal can be filled out with naan ($2), kulcha ($3), or other excellent bread and perhaps a mango lassi ($3). Fans of rice pudding will be pleased with the pistachio-and-almond-studded kheer ($5), just sweet enough and aromatic with cardamom. 2652 N. Halsted St.; 773-327-2652.
Photography: Anna Knott