A new Thai restaurant popping up in Chicago may sound like a real yawner. But hold on a second. Not only is newcomer Red Ginger (3103 N. Narragansett Ave.; 773-622-5606) located in Belmont-Cragin, a neighborhood more at home with pierogi than pot stickers, but its menu strays off the traditional pad Thai trail. “I love to cook and experiment with dishes from all over,” says the chef, Tap “Noi” Chompooming, a partner. This doesn’t mean he’s a slouch when it comes to dishing up booty from Bangkok-as one bite of lard nar, a colorful cluster of thick rice noodles, broccoli, red cabbage, and carrots ($6.25), convincingly proves. So do the crackly-shelled salmon rolls, the golden-edged Le Siam crêpe loaded with bean sprouts, coconut flakes, and nubs of chicken (pictured here; $5.95), and spunky som tam salad, a pretty pile-up of shredded papaya, mango, grapes, apples, and peanuts ($6.25). But it’s fun to mix it up by tossing in an order of Cajun-spiced catfish, crisp, tender, and generously strewn with sweet red and green pepper strips ($9.25), feisty Jamaican jerk chicken ($8.95), and roast duck blanketed with a dense blackberry sauce ($10.95). Vegetarians are in luck, too, as both the peapod delight and broccoli delight, showered with veggies and silken tofu, live up to their name. Not quite as delightful is the service, which, though soft-spoken and friendly, can be thumb-drum-mingly slow. But take along some buddies and an icy six-pack, and you’ll barely notice.
Michael Carlson has worked in some high-pressure kitchens-Trio under Grant Achatz and Spiaggia under Paul Bartolotta, to name a couple. “I had been considering going to work with Grant at Alinea,” Carlson says; instead, in August he did a 180 and opened the “stress-free” Schwa (1466 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-252-1466), a BYO neighborhood spot named for the dictionary term that refers to an unstressed vowel. In describing his menu, Carlson tosses out such words as “organic,” “upscale,” “seasonal,” and “contemporary, but not too contemporary,” which apparently means dishes such as chilled pea soup with lavender (pictured here; $7).
Trevor Hoyte, the chef of Dine (773 W. Madison St.; 312-602-2100), won’t be able to go in the backyard and dig his own potatoes, as he did in his native Barbados. But Hoyte-a veteran of Tru, Green Dolphin Street, and Caliterra-focuses on locally grown ingredients at Dine, a contemporary American 1940s retro-style brasserie and martini bar attached to the West Loop’s new Crowne Plaza hotel slated to open in October. And maybe it’s Hoyte’s island mindset that helps him prepare his pride and joy, the foie gras torchon (pictured here; $15), which, all said and done, takes 35 hours.
For you foodies who don’t like to roll up your sleeves and get dirty in the kitchen, August 28th will be huge. (And for those who do: don’t stop reading.) That’s the day EatZi’s (2828 N. Clark St.; 773-832-9310), a giant Dallas-based gourmet food emporium, begins luring customers to its bazaar/bakery/restaurant in the Century Shopping Centre. Fashioned after a European gourmet market, EatZi’s has farm-fresh produce over here, fresh bread coming out of the oven over there, and upscale takeaway meals everywhere. The soup and salad station (pictured here, from EatZi’s Atlanta outpost) alone will offer more than 20 options; anyone within walking distance may never cook again.