The Early Returns Edition
With a spate of openings all around town, Dish couldn’t resist taking the pulse of the newcomers. We tried everything from Turkish pizza to Mexican parillada-with decidedly mixed results. (In general, we give a place a bit of time to get up and running before visiting for the purpose of a review, so regard these comments accordingly.) Here are our first impressions of lots that’s new:
At the tiny three-week-old aqua-splashed hole-in-the-wall Nazarlik (1650 W. Belmont Ave., 773-327-5800), we gobbled down our made-to-order lahmacun, a.k.a. Turkish pizza. It’s a big, thin, irregularly shaped oval crust paved with spicy ground lamb. It’s fun to tear off strips and roll them up like cigars, which somehow adds to the sense of exotica. For $3.45 per person, including a side of smoky baba ghannouj, we vowed to go back and bring our friends.
We felt misled by the house-made chips and kicky salsa at Caoba (1619 N. Damen Ave.; 773-342-2622). They were absolutely terrific. Too bad nothing else we tried came close. The coctel de camaron was chock full of tough shrimp drowning in heavy-duty tomato sauce, and the parrillada (mixed grill) brought together a pileup of ribs that tasted reheated, chewy steak, marbly chorizo (sausage), and rubbery chicken. We skipped dessert.
Trattoria Trullo (4767 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-506-0093), new to Lincoln Square, looks and feels like the friendly neighborhood spot it is. And the red-sauce parsley-flecked Italian food looks and tastes like the corner trattoria of your childhood. Grilled seafood-octopus, squid, and shrimp over Tuscan beans-made for an agreeably rustic start, and the special entrée of chicken francese was a juicy surprise. Nothing is great; nothing is terrible; everything is big. If you like leftovers, you’ll love Trullo.
With uniformed servers and subpar sashimi, Nine Fish (2426 Main St., Evanston; 847-328-9177) is likely to get lost in the sea of sushi restaurants popping up all over Evanston. The restaurant tries to stand out with unique sauce combinations, but we could have done without the sour cream–loaded amberjack sashimi. And the complimentary starter of black roe with Korean fruit may sound appetizing-until you learn it’s served on sour-cream-and-onion potato chips.
We had no problem being the only ones in the dining room at Blu Restaurant and Sushi Lounge (1710 Orrington Ave., Evanston; 847-491-9220), an upscale sushi lounge that has found a home in Hotel Orrington’s everchanging restaurant spot. The newbie waitstaff had trouble with our questions and the service was sluggish, but the sushi was worth the wait. The super white tuna was on point and we loved the caterpillar roll (avocado over snow crab meat and shrimp tempura topped with black and red tobiko). Our smiles faded a bit when the steep bill arrived.
The outdoor rooftop patio is gorgeous, and so are the young professionals meeting for drinks at this new Bucktown spot, but Chaise Lounge (1840 W. North Ave., 773-342-1840) is more scene than cuisine, even with chef Isaac Holzwarth (RL) in the kitchen. The staff were spacy and the entrées fell flat, although the small portions worked to our advantage, allowing our sweet tooth to indulge in the refreshing Key lime pie and the uniquely delicious banana me sue dessert.
Shikago (190 S. LaSalle St.; 312-781-7300), the long-awaited second effort of Kevin and Alan Shikami (Kevin, 9 W. Hubbard St.; 312-595-0055), got off to a rocky start. The place opened a week before Taste of Chicago, closed a day or two after Taste opened, and reopened after the 4th of July. Sort of like fireworks that fizzle instead of sparkle. So, too, the food on an early visit. Seems as though seafood and shellfish are the strengths here, as the only winning dishes involved scallops, shrimp, and striped bass. Our advice: hold off until after Labor Day.
On the other hand, run, don’t walk, to the one-week-old Sepia (123 N. Jefferson St.; 312-441-1920). We can’t recall a smoother start for a new spot-especially one that skillfully combines upscale fare with trendy flair. Understated chic rules the décor and the menu. From the delightfully inventive fennel watermelon salad in goat cheese yogurt dressing to the perfectly grilled striped sea bass, this kitchen rocks. (Desserts fell short, but not by much.) Kudos to owner Emmanuel Nony and chef Kendal Duque for an impressive début.
At 1209 North Wells Street, something called Old Town Brasserie Market is in the works, and the old Max & Benny’s River East space (232 E. Illinois St.) will soon be home to Niu Japanese. More French, more sushi. Sounds good to us.
“Food is an important part of a balanced diet.” –Fran Lebowitz, Food for Thought and Vice Versa
Things to Do
1. Head to The James Hotel (55 E. Ontario St.; 312-337-1000) any day, now through September, for their specialty iced-tea service and some bites from David Burke’s Primehouse. (In the lobby from 3 to 5 p.m.; $17.)
2. Read this article: These people must really like Pizza Hut.
3. Plunk down $4.50 for an affogato at Bellezza Gelato Caffe (3637 N. Harlem Ave.; 773-545-1239), a new gelateria in Evris Plaza. That’s a scoop of gelato with a shot of espresso, a flavoring of your choice-chocolate or caramel comes to mind-whipped cream, and chocolate-covered espresso beans.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Moving: On August 31st, The Bleeding Heart Bakery (2018 W. Chicago Ave.; 773-278-3638), a certified organic bakery serving vegetarian and vegan fare, will close its happening spot on West Division and shift the operation to 1955 West Belmont Avenue, where management expects to re-open early September. . . . Closed: Cereality Cereal Bar & Cafe (100 S. Wacker Dr.; 1622 Sherman, Evanston) . . . Opened: Cy Oldham (Silver Cloud) and Howard Natinksy (Five Star) have teamed up for Fat Cat (4840 N. Broadway; 773-506-3100), a neighborhood bar featuring comfort food. . . . . La Pomme Rouge (108 W. Kinzie St.; 312-245-9555), featuring American contemporary small plates, opened quietly in mid-June. . . . Milk & Honey Bake Shop (1543 N. Damen Ave., 773-227-1167), a spin-off of the original café, specializes in coffee and panini. . . . Via Carducci La Sorella (1928 W. Division St.; 773-252-2244) joined the West Loop action on July 16th.