Rubbing the Belly

The most beloved new restaurant in Chicago right now? Urbanbelly (3053 N. California Ave.; 773-583-0500), Bill Kim’s noodle-and-dumpling BYO in Avondale. On The Huffington Post, Steve Dolinsky called it “the best first-day opening of any restaurant in Chicago,” and approximately a zillion Yelpers, LTHers, and other species of foodies have already weighed in with praise. A pair of trusted FODs who live in the neighborhood went nuts for the squash dumplings with bacon, orange segments, and papaya slices; the rich ramen with shiitake mushrooms and pork belly; and even the cold eggplant concoction. Count us among the chorus: We love Urbanbelly, too. This chic counter-service spot, with its big wooden communal tables and sophisticated dishes, feels like the right idea at the right time.


“To me heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town; one where I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them truly and well and the other where I would have my nine beautiful mistresses on nine different floors.” –Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), American writer

Tropic Wonder

Jamaica Jamaica (1512 Sherman Ave., Evanston; 847-328-1000), an island-inspired formal restaurant from Tony Levy (owner of Good To Go Jamaican Cuisine), opens on September 12th in downtown Evanston. “One thing that sets us apart from all the other [Jamaican] places is that [Tony] actually imports the seasoning from Jamaica,” says Lenice Levy, his wife and co-owner. Other points of pride: Tony makes and bottles his own jerk sauce; he also offers 30 different fresh fruit smoothies and tropical drinks like “white sand” (coconut milk, fresh pineapple, Jamaican rum). Dishes lean to curry conch; sweet potato pudding; and jerk chicken with rice, beans, steamed veggies, and fried plantain ($12). “And we play real relaxing reggae music,” says Lenice Levy. “So you get the real feel of being in Jamaica.” All this place needs now is real white sand.

Uncorking a Hoax

Perhaps you heard about this piece in the Los Angeles Times. To summarize: A wine writer named Robin Goldstein exposed the ridiculousness of Wine Spectator’s awards by creating his own phony restaurant with a phony wine list that included all kinds of the worst swill, submitted his $250 entry fee, and watched as his “restaurant” won a Wine Spectator award of excellence. Thomas Matthews, Wine Spectator’s executive editor, posted an online defense that accused Goldstein of dishonesty and included sanctimonious prose such as, “It is sad that an unscrupulous person can attack a publication that has earned its reputation for integrity over the past 32 years.” The truth is, most people in the know have assumed for years that Wine Spectator’s awards were a joke—Ruby’s father-in-law, for one. “The awards were always suspect to me,” he said. “I didn’t have the nerve to do what that guy did, and I kept my 250 bucks. Vindication at last!”

Mutts Make Good

Topa Tavern | Grill (944 Elk Grove Town Ctr., Elk Grove Village; 847-640-0440), a 180-seat American spot with not one but two patios, has flown under the radar since it opened last October. “It’s because we are in Elk Grove and people say, ‘What the hell is in Elk Grove?’” says Paul Diaz, who owns the place with his brother, Tony Diaz (Alinea, Moto, Charlie Trotter’s). The menu looks pretty straightforward (steaks, chops, Angus meat loaf), but Paul Diaz describes it as “a hodgepodge. Some Asian influences, some Mexican. My brother went to Vietnam two years ago and got inspired from street food. We have a lot of nationalities in our bodies. We are mutts. We are one-quarter Mexican. My mom is, like, Polish-Czech and at least two other things.”

L2Oh, Well

We’d heard a bunch of ominous rumors about Lettuce Entertain You’s shiny new L2O (2300 N. Lincoln Park West; 773-868-0002), like the fact that Francis Brennan, the chef de cuisine, had left, and that ten kitchen staffers had followed. But things are never as juicy as you imagine them. “Francis Brennan left—it’s true,” says Lettuce’s CEO, Rich Melman. “And I don’t know exactly how many people, but [their departure] was planned. Not like a mass exodus. Some of them are now here in [Lettuce’s] test kitchen; we moved one manager to Tru; one of the kids came from San Francisco just to open L2O. And Francis is working on some things for me. We’re always moving people around. The kitchen is probably down to 25 but that’s what it’s supposed to be. . . .  Business is good and getting better. [Exec chef/partner] Laurent Gras is there from 8 a.m. to midnight. I can’t get him to leave. If Laurent left, that would be a problem.”

Things to Do

  1. Drink wine and laugh at Landmark Grill & Lounge (1633 N. Halsted St.; 312-587-1600) on August 27th, when two Second City actors lead a winetasting dinner while they “entertain and educate guests with mock skits” about wine.
  2. Eat free hors d’oeuvres every Thursday and Friday during happy hour (4:30 to 6:30 p.m.) at Paramount Room (415 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 312-829-6300).
  3. Wonder how Iowans got so good with butter.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Sweet Occasions and More (5306 N. Clark St.), an Andersonville ice-cream/candy parlor, has closed. . . . Nazarlik (1650 W. Belmont Ave.), a tiny Turkish storefront in Lake View, has closed. . . . Kher Albourini, the new chef at Alhambra Palace (1240 W. Randolph St.; 312-666-9555), mark’s the place’s fifth head chef since it opened in April of 2007. . . . Book we’re most looking forward to reading and cooking from: Jennifer McLagan’s Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes (Ten Speed, 2008), which comes out next month. . . . Welcome back, Vic: An outpost of Trader Vic’s will open this fall at Newberry Plaza (1030 N. State St.) . . . Jaipur (847 W. Randolph St.; 312-526-3655), an Indian restaurant across the street from Veerasway, another Indian restaurant, opened last week without a liquor license. . . . Speaking of Lettuce Entertain You’s test kitchen, a couple of chefs there recently came up with something tantalizing for Nacional 27 called “liquor marshmallows.” We’re all over that.