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Best New Restaurants in Chicago 2011

22 great places to eat right now

(page 2 of 6)



Best new chef, dish, dessert, bartender, and more

Last year’s picks

PRICE KEY: ¢ $10 to $19  $ $20 to $29   $$ $30 to $39  $$$ $40 to $49   $$$$ $50-plus
[Cost per person for dinner, excluding wine, tax, or tip]

CUMIN (Indian)
If you want to be enlightened on the authentic Nepalese and rich Indian spices used at Cumin, take a knowledgeable friend with you. Chef Min Thapa’s tomelike menu in this red-toned Wicker Park spot covers a zillion bases—tandooris, masalas, biryanis, rotis—but not even the lengthy descriptions and friendly staff manage to unpack the mysterious spice combinations that color most every dish. Aloo gobhi, a potato-onion-cauliflower sauté coated with the restaurant’s ubiquitous “spice mix,” makes a distinctive impression; dainty chicken momos (dumplings) seasoned with Nepalese spices explode with flavor; and juicy-as-can-be curried catfish holds its own in a saucy sea of Indian spices. The restaurant could just as easily have been named Coriander or Cardamom. 1414 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-342-1414 

In the past six months, I’ve recommended Davanti more than any other restaurant in Chicago. To my friends and colleagues, my aunt in Toronto, a dude at a bus stop on North Clark Street. I can’t imagine anyone not falling for a carefree wine bar with creative, rustic Italian dishes like a buttery Ligurian-style baked focaccia stuffed with velvety melted Crescenza cheese. Or ricotta and honeycomb with thick slices of grilled Tuscan toast (best $4 I’ve spent in years). Jonathan Beatty’s menu overflows with cheese, salumi, and pizze, but it’s the potential throwaways that never fail to shock me: a creamy ceci bean spread, hearts of palm salad with pink peppercorns, a spinach raviolo packet oozing a farm egg. Funny that Davanti calls them shareable dishes; no one seems particularly interested in sharing. 1359 W. Taylor St.; 312-226-5550 

DUE LIRE (Italian)
“The place will have that kind of cozy, warm feeling of going to someone’s house in Italy,” said Massimo Di Vuolo a few months before he opened Due Lire, his very personal trattoria in Lincoln Square. Di Vuolo wears jeans on the job and loves to schmooze about the food. He’s constantly heaping praise on the chef, Kevin Abshire (Riccardo Trattoria), who turns out classic arancine, a delightful salumi formaggi plate, and dead-on spaghetti with tuna ragù. Affogato with a shot of espresso is a perfecto finish. If the owner and the food fail to make you feel at home, perhaps the busboy will: Ours asked us to help clear the table. Somehow, we didn’t mind. 4520 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-275-7878 

If you can get past The Florentine’s schizo décor, which looks like a library that got in a fight with T.G.I. Friday’s and lost, you’ll find Todd Stein’s soulful food. It’s similar to what he did so well at Cibo Matto, and he hasn’t missed a beat, with smart, upscale Italian dishes like seared scallops with fregola sarda, butternut squash, and black truffle or the thick caramelle pasta, oozing butternut squash with candied walnuts, brown butter, and almond amaretti. The masterpiece is a lamb shank with farro risotto, peperonata, and mint gremolata: dramatic, tender, and unforgettable. Don’t overlook the caramelized roasted cauliflower side with Calabrian chili relish or the excellent desserts, including tiramisù that reimagines the oft-botched classic as a mascarpone mousse with buttery ladyfingers for dipping. If only the room were as well conceived. JW Marriott, 151 W. Adams St.; 312-660-8866 

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