>> HAUTE MEX
This is Rande Gerber’s hottest pairing since a certain supermodel named Cindy. In June, the club owner lured Mexico City native Richard Sandoval to Chicago to give a shot of instant adrenaline to Gerber’s eight-year-old Gold Coast lounge, Whiskey Bar & Grill. Pork carnitas and steak tampiqueña may not sound terribly exciting, but when they come from Sandoval, best known for Maya in New York and restaurants from Denver to Dubai, we’re interested. “It was the right time to reinvent ourselves in Chicago,” says Gerber. “I just met Richard and knew that I had to do it.” Sutton Place Hotel, 1015 N. Rush St.; 312-475-0300.
Crème chantilly and a fresh strawberry crown the chocolate mousse at Chaise Lounge ($7.50).
What do you get when you cross Hi-Tops with RL? The answer: Chaise Lounge, a breezy collaboration between the owners of Wrigleyville’s legendary sports bar and the former chef of Ralph Lauren’s signature restaurant. It may sound like a weird pairing, but exec chef Isaac Holzwarth’s American eclectic menu grounds the operation. Take his desserts: homey creations such as chocolate mousse with triple sec, crème chantilly, and a vanilla crème cookie (pictured below) fall into the familiar-food realm. The bright environs (sheer curtains, vinyl panels, and a massive outdoor patio) sound comfortable. With that name, they’d better be. 1840 W. North Ave.; 773-342-1840.
(left) Sepia’s pork rillette with fig jam and bread salad sports pistachio brittle ($8); grilled quail with mustard greens and more in warm pig trotters vinaigrette ($12).
With the opening of Sepia, chef Kendal Duque (Tru, NoMI) sounds happy to be breaking free of his French fine-dining background. “That sort of ambiance really takes you to the extreme and rips you apart to your core,” Duque says. He was tapped by Emmanuel Nony, Sepia’s owner and his former colleague at NoMI, to style a contemporary-yet-traditional American dining experience likely to appeal to West Loop hipsters. The menu reads simply-no more than four components in any dish-and trendy/cozy creations such as grilled quail with mustard greens and warm pig trotters vinaigrette (below right) should go a long way toward getting Duque’s
“core” back. 123 N. Jefferson St.;312-441-1920.
>> BUDGET BEAT
The citrusy salsa and fresh-made chips that hit your table as soon as you sit down at cheerful Xni-Pec are more than just a rousing how-de-do. The restaurant is named for this traditional Yucatecan salsa, whose habanero peppers are pretty much guaranteed to make your nose wet, like a dog’s. Hence the name: xni-pec (pronounced shnee-pek) is Mayan for “nose of the dog.” Owners Antonio and María Luisa Contreras graciously guide newcomers through the menu, starting you off, perhaps, with vaporcitos ($2 each), tamales steamed in banana leaves, or with tacos cochinita pibil ($1.75 each), soft tortillas piled with slow-roasted marinated pork and crunchy pickled onions. Entrées may include anything from filleted tilapia with coconut salsa (pescado caribeño; $10.50) to soft-fried tortillas wrapped around chopped hard-boiled egg and draped with green-seed sauce (papadzules; $8.85). On weekends, Xni-Pec slathers turkey with an earthy traditional Mexican mole made with six different chilies (mole rojo; $10.20). Accompany with beer, a plantain shake, or fresh fruit juice (the watermelon is a winner). For dessert, linger over cinnamon-inflected coffee with a dense, slightly cheesy flan. 5135 W. 25th St., Cicero; 708-652-8680.
Photography by Michael Maes