A Cuna Ma Cocktail
Pollack’s Dinner at Cuna in 161 Words
With its sleek industrial design, Cuna (1113 W. Belmont Ave.; 312-224-8588) looks every inch a lounge scene: black and smoky gray colors, brick walls, high-top tables, red leather–padded eggshell-shaped stools. But Kendal Duque (opening chef at Sepia) runs the kitchen, so the place is serious about its food, too. The first category on the small-bites/big-bites menu is Duque’s signature flatbreads. We went with the one topped with braised lamb shoulder, green olives, and caramelized onions. Good nibbling, but it was the soups that blew us away—thick and hearty cauliflower and potato with smoked trout, beefy onion soup with addictive caramelized onions. The bison burger packed a punch, too, but the boring whole-wheat pasta with smoked duck breast let us down. If it’s a lounge, we hear you asking, what about the cocktails? “Mocha” (chocolate vodka, espresso vodka, and two Godiva chocolate liqueurs) made dessert unnecessary. With drinks like that—enjoyable as dinner was—we wonder: Who will come here for the food?
“Next to jazz music, there is nothing that lifts the spirit and strengthens the soul more than a good bowl of chili.” –Harry James (1916-1983), American trumpeter and bandleader
Peggy Maglaris-Kopley has worked hard over the past several years to feed her husband and son organic, pesticide-free, hormone-free food. But whenever they wanted to dine out, they found themselves driving from their home in Orland Park to the city to eat at organic-centric places like Lula, Uncommon Ground, or Crust. “Why can’t we have that in the suburbs?” she asked herself. Instead of answering, she rejected the question’s premise and partnered with her dad and other family members to open Prasino (93 S. La Grange Rd., La Grange; 708-469-7058) in cute-as-a-button downtown La Grange. “The heart of our mission is to be as green as possible—sustainable, doing organic as much as we can,” Maglaris-Kopley says. (Grecophiles will recognize the restaurant’s name as the Greek word for “green.”) In addition to the restaurant, Prasino contains a full-service coffee-juice-smoothie bar and free Wi-Fi. Maglaris-Kopley recommends the short rib and the line-caught black cod.
Six Questions for José Oliver
Oliver serves as owner and chef of Fonda Isabel (18 W. 333 Roosevelt Rd., Lombard; 630-691-2222), which opened October 17th.
D: Where are you from?
JO: I’m from Morelos, from central Mexico. From a small town called Cuautla. I came to this country 21 years ago.
D: What are you trying to do with Fonda Isabel?
JO: What makes this restaurant unique is that we have food from all over Mexico. I have traveled through Mexico in the last five years a lot, checking different recipes and making people upset when I asked a lot of questions. Most of my recipes have been from my travels.
D: You got other chefs to share their recipes with you?
JO: Yes. They were very accommodating. Some were not, but still, somehow, I got the recipes. You can always give an extra five or ten dollars to the waiter.
D: What are you most excited about on your menu?
JO: The recipe that reminds me of my mom: pollo a la Isabel. I named it after her. It’s really very simple. Just chicken with mushrooms and a kind of sweet, thick gravy with rice on the side and pickled jalapeños. Boneless chicken breasts, panfried, and then we add a sweet gravy.
D: What’s the secret to the gravy?
JO: Believe it or not, Pepsi. That’s the secret. This is a dish that people would not think was Mexican food right away, because it is sweet.
D: It’s very nice of you to honor your mom with this place.
JO: My mom lives in Mexico. We are nine siblings, and we all have kids, and every single one [of us], we named one of our sons after my father, Manuel. Nobody named a daughter after my mom. And she mentioned it to me once, and I said, ‘I’m not planning to have any more kids, but I am going to open a restaurant and name it after you.’
For those who keep kosher, Manghal (1805 Howard St., Evanston; 847-859-2681), which began serving Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine near the Chicago border two months ago, keeps its alephs crossed and its kafs dotted. “All of the dishes, truly homemade,” says one of the co-owners, Moshe Aliel. “Everything made daily, fresh.” That includes hummus, falafel, shawarma, and soups, plus desserts—many things chocolate, but not milk chocolate; the whole kitchen is dairy-free. They’re currently working on Friday takeout for Shabbos. Also, it’s BYOKB. Closed on Saturday, as if you had to ask.
One week ago today, Buzz: Killer Espresso (1644 N. Damen Ave.; 773-366-8377) opened its doors near the Milwaukee-North-Damen nexus of yuppie hipsterdom. The café’s goal, as described by one of its owners, Agnes Otworowski, is to be “a very serious coffee shop,” featuring small-batch beans from different roasters around the country, as well as a house roast from MadCap Coffee in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “We want to offer these coffees served with fanatical precision and care,” says Stefan Hersh, another partner. (The third partner is Hersh’s brother Julian Hersh. Stefan and Julian are also both professional string players, and together they own Darnton & Hersh Fine Violins.) Although made-to-order drip coffee is available, the focus is on espresso drinks, as specified in the café’s name. (“Killer,” however, is figurative.)
Things to Do
The always generous Chicago restaurant community is raising money for earthquake relief in Haiti. Here are three especially charitable ways to eat out in the coming weeks:
- Have dinner at Tapas Valencia (1530 S. State St.; 312-842-4444) on Tuesday the 26th. All proceeds from the meal will go to the American Red Cross.
- Eat at one of the 19 Francesca’s restaurants on Monday the 25th. They’re donating 100 percent of profits from the day or $10,000, whichever is larger, to the American Red Cross.
- Mark your calendar for a benefit at Michael’s Chicago Style Red Hots (1879 2nd St., Highland Park; 847-432-3338) on February 19th. Cocktails, dinner, music, and dancing are completely underwritten by Michael’s. Suggested donation of $50 all goes to The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
The bar area at The Deer Path Inn (255 E. Illinois Rd., Lake Forest; 847-234-2280) reopened in December after renovations as a casual restaurant and sushi bar straightforwardly called The Bar. . . . First Slice Pie Café (4401 N. Ravenswood Ave.; 773-506-7380) quietly opened a second location in the Water Works (163 E. Pearson St.; 312-202-1227) in late December and has “some sort of retail spot” in the works at 4664 North Manor Avenue to open “within the next six months,” according to the manager, Ryan Cooper. . . . The chronologically inaccurate Chicago Originals Restaurant Week began last Monday and runs through Sunday, January 31st. The locally owned restaurants involved, including Cafe Matou, Kiki’s Bistro, and Mizu, are offering three- or four-course meals for $29.10. . . . For the rest of January, a two-course meal (either soup or salad, then an entrée) at Marché (833 W. Randolph St.; 312-226-8399) costs $20 at dinner and $10 at lunch. Not available on Saturday.