Zak’s Place
Informal but not quite casual, upscale without being exorbitant, Zak’s isn’t about to startle anyone with its wood-paneled walls and protein-focused menu. What is surprising is just how capable the kitchen is. It’s not just the 22-ounce bone-in rib eye that’s perfectly cooked; it’s the grilled asparagus, too, and the crispy steak fries—called Zak’s potatoes. And while he treads familiar ground, chef Marc Stein isn’t a total slave to tradition. Instead of yet another caesar salad, he offers smoky grilled romaine with chipotle ranch dressing and pico de gallo. To round out Zak’s appeal, Yamandu Perez, a co-owner and former sommelier for Gabe Viti, has assembled a solid, New World–heavy wine list. 112 S. Washington St., Hinsdale; 630-323-9257. –Nathaniel Zimmer

Photography: Kendall Karmanian




A 2,000-pound wood-burning oven that comes with a 48-hour training course sounds serious. So serious that Olo’s owner, Dean Georgelos, sent his chefs to San Francisco to learn how to use what he calls “our prized possession.” Ovens that reach 600 degrees are typically used for pizzas and flatbreads, but when Olo opens, watch for lamb tagines and Mediterranean fish soups. Also, various woods will be used—almond, ash, oak—for different flavors. And by morning, the oven should cool down to about 300 degrees—perfect for baking pastries and bread. This baby does everything but the dirty dishes. 1152 W. Randolph St.; 312-733-0573. –Penny Pollack




Takashi Yagihashi? He’s the guy who spent eight years at Ambria (1988 to 1996) and then landed the executive chef job at Tribute in Farmington Hills, Michigan. There he won the coveted James Beard award for best Midwest chef of 2003. Remember? Well, hang on to your silver lamé bib because his new place, Takashi, should be open—if not yet, soon—and Yagihashi says he’s here to stay. He redid the old Scylla space in Bucktown and wrote a menu filled with Japanese-influenced American French dishes, such as crispy veal sweetbreads with arimashansho sauce and sautéed Maine scallops with soba gnocchi. Welcome home, Chef. 1952 N. Damen Ave.; 773-772-6170. –Penny Pollack



As Chant readied to open last fall, first alerts from people who had peered through the windows reported that the place looked, you know, designed. On a street where do-it-yourself décor is the rule, not the exception, this surprised many Hyde Parkers. And indeed, the spiffy contemporary Asian spot is cute as a button, from the light fixture that resembles a giant bamboo steamer to the advice from Buddha (re anger and its consequences) painted on the back wall. Chant has the same owners as Noodles Etc., on 57th Street, but not the same menu. Just-fried won ton chips and roasted red pepper salsa are nice with a beer or cocktail to start. Follow with a pretty plateful of asparagus rolls with crunchy flash-baked panko crumbs on their outer edges. Velvety pumpkin coconut soup is one of many effective vegan offerings; we also liked the salad of crisp slices of Asian pear with watercress, especially that touch of anise in the dressing. We hardly needed more, but we couldn’t resist the curried Singapore noodles and finished, happily, with a pot of green tea. 1509 E. 53rd St.; 773-324-1999. –Joanne Trestrail 

Photography: Tyllie Barbosa Food Styling: Christina Zerkis