Way to Go, Grant
Dish adds its best wishes to the growing chorus of food critics and journalists sounding the happy news that, following numerous rounds of aggressive chemotherapy and radiation protocols, the life-threatening cancer faced by Grant Achatz (Alinea, 1723 N. Halsted St.; 312-867-0110) is in remission.

Eat the Macarena
According to John Borras, chef/owner of the three-month-old Macarena Tapas (618 S. Route 59, Naperville; 630-420-8995), Ferran Adrià, father of the techno-chef revolution, accepts exactly 48 participants from the more than 300,000 applications he receives for his annual culinary seminar in Barcelona. Borras was one of the chosen for the class of 2006—and the effect on him was profound. “I used to be a regular type of chef. An American chef,” says Borras. “When you go with this guy, he just changes you. He changes how you cook, how you feel as a chef. He just changes you.” We’re not sure what that means but suddenly stuff like manchego-wrapped marshmallows and chocolate-covered shrimp are coming out of a 58-seat tapas bar in a Naperville strip-mall.

Hold the Wisconsin Lodge Jokes
A new restaurant in Logan Square sports a flagstone-covered bar, a wood-beamed ceiling, and an antler chandelier. It’s true. Tim Leahy opened Rustik (2515 N. California Ave.; 773-235-0002), his “modern urban lodge,” last Saturday. Not only is the place done up to feel like a woodsy lodge, but there’s a glassed-in atrium behind the bar—a seasonally changing garden, if you will—which currently features three evergreens. Sounds like a kick to dig into mac and cheese or sliders on Parker House buns next to the great outdoors. And here’s another newbie for Chicago—German butter cake. It’s a dessert apparently indigenous to Philadelphia, Leahy’s hometown. We never heard of it. “It’s yeast dough but basically like a hard crust on top,” says Leahy. “You cut into it and it’s just butter and sugar inside. A hard crust with a gooey center.” Sounds like the place itself.

It’s a Grand Night for Closings
After a five-year run in the heart of the Viagra corridor, Grotto on State (1030 N. State St.; 312-280-1005) is calling it a night on New Year’s Eve. The Italian steak house and nightlife haunt will resurface early March, however, as Grotto Oak Brook in the Oak Brook Promenade shopping center. Seems an unlikely location for the operation, but the GM, Robert Doherty, waxes on about 17,000 square feet, a banquet hall, and an outdoor patio overlooking a pond in summer.

And on the same night, it’s adios to Mas (1670 W. Division St.; 773-276-8700), a Wicker Park pioneer. The place has always done a nice job with contemporary Latin but the chef/owner, John Manion, is ready to move on. “It’s a totally different neighborhood than what we opened to nine years ago,” says Manion. “I’m ready to do something else. It’s my baby and I don’t have much of a security blanket but I’m looking forward to doing something new. I want to cook food again—not that I don’t at Mas—but I have different ideas [now].” He’s just not ready to say what they are.

She Said It . . .
“If Mies van der Rohe were to create a creamery, that’s how the space would look. I want to raise the cupcake up to an elegant sophisticated dessert that can be served anywhere.” –Patty Rothman describing her cupcake boutique, More (1 E. Delaware Place; 312-951-0001), scheduled to open in mid-February. FYI: Henry Adaniya (former owner of the late lamented Trio) and Gale Gand (executive pastry chef, Tru and Cenitare Restaurants) have both signed on as consultants—Adaniya for management and Gand for pastry and recipe development.

“It is odd how all men develop the notion, as they grow older, that their mothers were wonderful cooks. I have yet to meet a man who will admit that his mother was a kitchen assassin and nearly poisoned him.” –Robertson Davies, Canadian author (1913-95)

Things to Do:
1. Toast the miracle that is Champagne at Schaefer’s (9965 Gross Point Rd., Skokie; 847-673-5711) 27th annual ChampagneFest on December 28th from 3 to 7 p.m., and sample from more than 100 bottles of bubbly. The $10 entrance charge benefits needy families—we’ll drink to that.
2. Wear red and join The Smoke Daddy (1804 W. Division St.; 773-772-6656) tonight for a retirement party honoring their famed Li’l Red Smoker. Give a warm welcome to the new smoker on the block, and enjoy barbecue and complimentary red velvet cake (8 p.m. to midnight).
3. Never underestimate the powers of beer.

Dot Dot Dot . . .
Quiet openings: A Loop location of Eppy’s Deli (162 N. Franklin St.; 312-345-7771), where new comfort food offerings include meat loaf and spicy mac and cheese. Not to worry—the new Eppy’s is still into bagels with a shmear. . . . Jason Paskewitz swears that The 621 Diner (621 E. Roosevelt Rd., Lombard; 630-620-0060) will open its doors on January 2nd. . . .  Who knew? The house-made cinnamon bread and decadent strawberry butter at 25-year-old Nancy’s Tea Room (4912 Main St., Downers Grove; 630-964-5515) has a loyal following. . . . Hot tip: The house maki combo for two at Ponzu Sushi (2407 N. Clark St.; 773-549-8890) is quite the deal: Thirty bucks nets you an appetizer, two makimono, and two huge specialty maki—it’s a lot of food. (Warning: This Monday the price goes up to $35.) . . . Like the rest of you, Dish plans to overdose on eggnog next week, but we will be back in January. Happy holidays and all that jazz.