At Matsumoto Restaurant (3800 W. Lawrence Ave.; 773-267-1555), you tell the owners how much you want to spend, and they take it from there. The new kaiseki (prix fixe) spot has no menu, no glitzy ambiance, and no big names (the partners run a modest spot next door called Chicago Kalbi). But Matsumoto’s attempts to introduce “authentic” Japanese dishes to Westerners are nothing short of astounding: gorgeous impromptu constructions of raw squid in a saké–squid stomach sauce; yamaimo (sweet potato) soup topped with sea cucumber liver and dried seaweed; and zensai (assorted vegetable, seafood, egg, and duck hors d’oeuvres; pictured here). Not bad for a forgotten stretch of Albany Park.
Shawn McClain, he of the intricate Spring, the inimitable Green Zebra, and a slew of positive press from here to Timbuktu, is shifting gears in late October with Custom House (Hotel Blake, 500 S. Dearborn St.; 312-523-0200). No one would describe either of the above restaurants as ”muscular” or ”all-American,” but CH’s menu-think rabbit, short ribs, organic baby chicken, and a red-heavy wine list-almost begs for such descriptors. McClain’s protein-heavy offerings include braised suckling pig with cipolline (onions) and roasted fingerling potatoes on the side (pictured here; $19) and the smart room was designed by François Genève, whose work also won raves at Spring and Green Zebra.
The buttermilk fried chicken (pictured here; $14) was a favorite at Gibsons Steakhouse for years, but it was never on the menu. “People knew to call a day in advance and we’d do it for them,” says partner Hugo Ralli. Now it’s a signature at Ralli’s newest venture, Luxbar (18 E. Bellevue Pl.; 312-642-3400), a marble-floored, mahogany-walled drinking hole that opened in September. Chef Mike Clark’s gourmet grub includes small plates of chicken liver mousse, barbecue ribs, and tuna tartare-and his “rolling pin chili,” a five-way Cincinnati concoction so named because Clark once traded his recipe for a rolling pin.