Dining Tidbits - October 2006
Budget Beat, Mecca, French, and Wine Country
In our experience, Pan-Asian places tend to be much stronger with one cuisine than with the others. At the Japanese-Thai Asian Avenue (1624 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-549-2201), both sides are full of happy choices. Appetizers are especially well executed-we can't remember when we've had such tasty, delicate gyoza, or chicken satay succulent enough to really make us sit up and take notice, as both did here. Our hands-down favorite was golden bag (pictured here; $3.95), eight thumbnail-size rice-paper packages tied around tiny whole shrimps and a bit of crabmeat, then deep-fried. Appetizers don't get any cuter than that, or yummier. Hotategai (seared sea scallops on a bed of apple and plum purée; $8 ) is an enjoyable excursion off the beaten path; more familiar sushi and tempura options are perfectly fine, if not mind-blowing. We loved our fiery som tam salad ($4.95), entrées of stir-fried shrimp with asparagus ($7.95) and creamy penang curry ($6.95), and the simple Thai custard dessert ($2). And we were pleased to sit in such a fresh, yet entirely simple dining room and be so well taken care of. BYO.
Attention, Wheeling residents and neighbors: you've just hit the jackpot. This fall, Gale Gand and Rick Tramonto, Tru's culinary masterminds, will open not one, not two-but four restaurants in your brand-new Westin Chicago North Shore hotel (601 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling; 847-777-6590). On October 12th, Gale's Coffee Bar and Osteria di Tramonto launch; then, a month later, you get RT Lounge and Tramonto's Steak & Seafood. Working backwards, Tramonto describes the concepts thusly: "It's a steak house, a little Asian thing, a little Italian thing, and a little Gale's thing." We suspect the guy's just being modest: "Gale's thing" will feature Gand's stunning pastries (above: chocolate doughnut holes with chewy chocolate sauce); the osteria is an all-day spin on River North's hit Osteria Via Stato; the lounge boasts the North Shore's first crudo bar (raw, cured, and marinated meats and fish); and the steak house is exactly what it sounds like. You lucky stiffs. (See "Chefs on the Grill," page 189.)
"The biggest thing we want to stay away from was being that typical French bistro," says Renée Nicole Krautter-Gomes, a partner at four-month-old Tapis Rouge (581 Roger Williams, Highland Park; 847-681-1401). Whatever you say, Renée, but try telling it to the local Francophiles hungry for steak frites heaped with skinny fries and brick de chèvre-baked and caramelized goat cheese in phyllo with a giant mint leaf and honey atop a petite green salad (above; $9). We bet the North Shore will soon be all over that red carpet you rolled out.
Here's hoping Broadway Cellars (5900 N. Broadway; 773-944-1208) fares better in this Edgewater space than the previous occupants-both The Room and South went south pretty quickly. But Tom and Geri Foley think they have a winner with their new budget-friendly wine bistro, patterned after the Napa Valley cafés they love. "We think the public is savvy enough to design their own flights," Tom Foley says. "Pick three from our list, and there's your flight." A smart idea; you can tell your waiter what goes with the salmon over Thai slaw (pictured here; $16.95) rather than the other way around.
Photograph: Tyllie Barbosa