>> BUDGET BEAT
“I love cooking and I love to eat everything,” says Ann Leevathana, who looks as if she couldn’t pack away much more than half a spring roll. But the petite chef/owner of The Elephant (5348 W. Devon Ave.; 773-467-1168) has no problem whipping up a squadron of dainty spring rolls along with Thai curries, noodles, and much more in her sunny Edgebrook digs. Standouts include appetizers of sautéed shrimp encased in wafer-thin, deep-fried rice paper wrappers and skewers of succulent chicken satay. Finely minced chicken shows up along with crisp green beans in a spirited entrée of basil chicken ($6.95), and pasta lovers can go for the green with savory “emerald” noodles joined by sprouts, clumps of crabmeat, and shrimp ($8.75). Curries are dandy, too, especially coconut milk–laced Mussaman loaded with either chicken or beef, or pad keow wan, a sultry green rendition sparked with asparagus, green beans, and tofu. Not to be missed is tilapia pad cha, crisp stir-fried nuggets of tender fish and Thai eggplant pepped up with cute little twigs sporting peppercorns (pictured here; $10.95). Smoothies laden with tapioca pearls and fresh fruits offer ideal summer sipping, especially the frothy pineapple-coconut number ($3.50). Service is friendly and accommodating, so don’t be shy about letting them know if you want your dishes tongue-numbing, mild, or vegetarian. Unfortunately, there’s no chance for late-night lard nar: the kitchen closes at 8:45.
>> PUB GRUB
Jonathan Young and Stephen Dunne are following up Volo, their wine-focused Roscoe Village spot, with an even more ambitious project. Paramount Room (415 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 312-829-6300), a bistro-meets-gastropub endeavor, lands this summer in a 100-year-old building that once sheltered a Prohibition-era speakeasy (and, more recently, 4Taste). Plans for a rotating selection of craft brews, a menu packed with hearty entrées such as Berkshire pork shank, and a tavernlike atmosphere with mezzanine dining make Paramount au courant. An entrée of Belgian ale–steamed mussels (pictured here; $12) with fresh-cut frites makes it downright tantalizing.
With its art nouveau décor and 1920s style, Maijean (30 S. Prospect Ave., Clarendon Hills; 630-794-8900), which opened in June, looks every bit the part of an upscale French bistro. But chef-owner Nadia Tilkian (Zinfandel, Bistro 110) puts her own stamp on French classics by infusing elements of Asian and Italian cuisine into this west suburban standout. Take the seared sea scallops with daikon radish salad and ponzu broth: not your typical Left Bank prep. Then again, there are steak frites, lyonnaise salad, and crème brûlée with berry compote (pictured here; $7) for the purists out there.
The masterminds behind New York’s ultramodern Thai restaurants Peep, Spice, and Sea fixed their sights on Chicago with Sura Thai Bistro (3124 N. Broadway; 773-248-7872). The striking restaurant/lounge hybrid looks like a Stanley Kubrick set, and the menu embraces Thai-Asian fusion with contemporary spins on familiar fare such as duck in pinot noir with a tamarind-soy reduction (pictured here; $14). Predictably, Sura has also tapped into the small-plates rage with a smart list of Pan-Asian tapas as far afield as a Thai fondue dessert, but for those who don’t play well with others, savor a larger-portion entrée.
Photography by Tyllie Barbosa