Better Near Than Never

We at Dish do our best to give you, dear reader, all Chicago-area restaurant news in a timely fashion. Although it opened in August 2011, Near (108 Barrington Commons Ct., Barrington, 847-382-1919) didn’t register for us till recently. “It took a lot of people a long time to find us,” says Gaetano Nardulli, Near’s chef/owner. “But I kind of wanted it that way. I wanted it to be a word-of-mouth place.” A lifelong suburbanite, first-generation Italian American, and veteran of Spiaggia, Butter, and Schwa, Nardulli created a cozy 42-seat Italian storefront using recipes from his grandmother Nina Elena and mother, Angela Rosa. Their initials spell the name of the restaurant. Grandma’s gnocchi (“It’s all how the dough feels in your hand,” Nardulli says) with pork and tomato and Mom’s three-day marinated eggplant (Day 1, lemon juice and salt; Day 2, white vinegar; Day 3, soybean oil) exemplify the menu. Writing a weekly newsletter can obscure the important but less newsy rhythms of food, like Sunday dinners at Nardulli’s grandma’s house, an event that closes Near every week. “If you are not there by three o’clock, you get pushed to the end of the table,” he says. Guess it’s sometimes important to be timely.


New Review: Near

Near debuts in Chicago magazine’s restaurant listings this week, in Dine, as well as on our website, where new restaurant reviews, updated to reflect critics’ recent visits, appear each month. Listed restaurants are rated from one to four stars, where one is good, two is very good, three is excellent, and four is superlative. Near previously was not listed. The new review appears in the January issue, on newsstands tomorrow.

Near (108 Barrington Commons Ct., Barrington, 847-382-1919). Italian.

  ½ (very good to excellent)
$$ ($30–$39 per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)

Chef/owner and Schwa veteran Gaetano Nardulli brings a personal take on modern Italian to his sleek and casual hidden gem. The crispy arancini with a creamy center of braised chicken and provolone and the grilled octopus with fennel, almonds, sweet peppers, and chimichurri stand out among shareable starters. Housemade pappardelle and wax beans in a spicy anchovy and tomato sauce is a sumptuous pasta choice, while the best entrée is the juicy rib eye on mushroom purée with garlic confit, rapini, and pickled radish. Yummy desserts include ricotta fritters with vanilla sugar. Wines and clever cocktails are as well priced as everything else.

For the dishes we liked best, click here.    


Tola Booth

In a space the size of a largish college dorm room, Café Tola (3612 N. Southport Ave., 773-966-8917) opened for business about a month ago. “We managed to get a full-blown little kitchen in here,” says Gerardo Salamanca, who owns the espresso and empanadas bar with his wife, Victoria. Empanada choices, all $3, include plantains, goat cheese, and black beans; the poblano-pepper-based rajas with cheese; and a weekend special, such as short rib and chipotle. The small space means no tables indoors, but the Salamancas hope to open outdoor seating both front and back next summer. “They delivered today a full-sized glass-window fridge and freezer,” Gerardo told Dish last week. “We will find a way to put it in.” Did he consider one of those little cube beer fridges?


Petit Fore!

Following construction, the long-vacant space that housed the Lincoln Park P.J. Clarke’s will fill with Fairways (1141 W. Armitage Ave., no phone yet), a two-floor, 10,000-square-foot project slated for April or May, serving local and organic American fare to contrast with burger-and-beer sports bars nearby. “Our concept is an urban country club,” says Michael McCutcheon, an owner. [Ed. note: Wouldn’t that be a city club?] The centerpiece of most country clubs, the golf course, comes through four big golf simulators on the second floor, where players can practice their swings in front of a projection screen where a high-speed ball tracking system renders the flight of the ball across famous courses. Hopefully no one slices a ball into someone’s risotto.



“Some people have a foolish way of not minding, or pretending not to mind, what they eat. . . . I look upon it, that he who does not mind his belly, will hardly mind anything else.” —Samuel Johnson (1709–84), English poet, critic, and writer


Laying Down the Law

About a year ago, Anshul Mangal, a lawyer by training, started getting serious about opening his own restaurant and quit his job. “I thought this would be a great field where I could use all my different skill sets,” he says. “I realized quickly that I didn’t know that much about starting a restaurant.” He teamed up with the consultant Mario Ponce, and the two developed Takito Kitchen (2013 W. Division St., no phone yet), a 70-seat modern Mexican place they hope to open in February or March in the old Sabor Saveur space. Although a chef hasn’t been named yet, Mangal says Takito might feature the “earthy, homey food” that typifies Division Street restaurants. Presumably that goes for desserts, too—Mangal already knows torts.


Suture Self

Similarly, Michael Younan, a former administrator for a large medical practice and the current owner of a medical supply company, chose to pursue his lifelong dream of being the chef/owner of his own restaurant. He plans to open the result, Johnnie Blue (2619 W. Lawrence Ave., 773-597-4444), after Christmas, on the same Lincoln Square strip as Goosefoot. “The main concept is [food] grilled with natural charcoal wood, all food prepared on the spot,” Younan says, citing steaks, kebabs, and wild-caught seafood as examples. “Liquor will all be high-end,” he says, “like Johnnie Walker Blue Label.” Just think of the possible synergies between his businesses—there could be a whole new branch of cooking called surgical gastronomy.


Hunt Down

After 18 years in business, the Gold Coast restaurant and nightspot the Hunt Club will close sometime in the new year, renovate, and emerge as Maple & Ash (1100 N. State St., no phone yet), a project we first heard about in Crain’s. Steak, grilled over woods such as those in the restaurant’s name, will form the focus of the menu. “[In] the area, we have some of the best steak houses,” says Jim Lasky, the owner, presumably referring to Gibsons, Morton’s, Tavern on Rush, and the new Del Frisco’s, all of which are located within a block or so. “We want to take that and give it a new direction, make it something fun and celebratory.” The ground-up reconstruction will deliver a first-floor bar and a second-floor restaurant, with a combined 200 to 250 seats. The third floor will house a club, possibly with a different name. Lasky pegs the opening for late 2013. Once he puts down his steaks, all the steakholders in the neighborhood will make that a real Steak Strip.


He Said It

“Pleasure is only insignificant if you’re not having any, and I have started to suspect that the people who write [anti-foodie] critiques are just upset because everybody else is having too much fun. And then I start to feel sorry for them, and want to send them a dozen cookies from Beurre & Sel in the Essex Street Market. But then I decide that cookies would be wasted on people who don’t know how to have a good time.” —Pete Wells, the chief restaurant critic at the New York Times, in a Q&A with readers last week


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Things to Do

  1. Hurry over to the Panera Bread Café (2 N. Michigan Ave., 312-332-6895) today to watch the Panera bakers at their craft in the store’s window. The chain will donate three meals to the Feeding America food bank for each baguette purchased through December 23.
  2. Nosh on three courses for $29 this Monday at Bistro Voltaire (226 W. Chicago Ave., 312-265-0911). The new weekly special features classic French cuisine like escargot, boeuf bourguignon, and crème brûlée.
  3. Indulge in Champagne & Caviar Night, hosted by D.O.C. Wine Bar (2602 N. Clark St., 773-883-5101), at 7 p.m. tomorrow. Four sparklers and four caviars cost $49 a person; call for reservations.



  • The family-owned taco spot L’Patron (2815 W. Diversey Ave., 773-252-6335) is open for 16-seat counter service, courtesy of Ernesto Gonzalez (formerly of Topolobampo) and his brother, Cesar.
  • The farm-to-table concept Gather (4539 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-506-9300) opened yesterday in the former LM space.
  • Edzo’s Burger Shop (2218 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-697-9909) started serving Lincoln Park yesterday at its second location.
  • A mayoral ribbon-cutting ceremony welcomed Ward Eight (629 Howard St., Evanston, 773-369-4911) to Evanston yesterday.
  • Tomorrow, Stephanie Izard will debut one aspect of Little Goat (820 W. Randolph St., 312-492-6262): its coffee shop, deli, and bakery component, Little Goat Bread.
  • Also tomorrow, the Melman sibs open the highly anticipated country-western barbecue joint Bub City (435 N. Clark St., 312-610-4200).
  • Jim August (Cortland’s Garage, Standard Bar & Grill, The Stretch) won’t fire up the grill for dinner at Flagship (1622 W. Belmont Ave., 773-426-6692) until January, but the bar will get things rolling on Friday.
  • Municipal Bar (216 W. Ohio St., 312-834-3109), a 180-seat upscale sports bar with industrial décor inspired by Chicago’s streets, will open Saturday.


Dot Dot Dot . . .

Table, Donkey and Stick continues to tease with preview dinners this weekend. Rest assured, the place will open open on December 20. . . . Ba Le opened a third location at 166 West Washington Street on Monday. . . . The new Bottleneck Management restaurant in the Tribune Tower at 435 North Michigan Avenue will be called Howells and Hood, after the architects of the tower.