Sell the Sizzle

“I think I found a way to survive here,” says Alan Shikami, who has transformed Shikago (190 S. LaSalle St.; 312-781-7300) into the kind of “fun Japanese/Asian restaurant” he always wanted. In his new chef, James Okuno—Shikago’s former sous-chef and son of Kiyoshi Okuno from New York’s esteemed Sushi Yasuda—he’s finally found someone on the same page. Together, they’ve gone back to basics. “There was a place in Bangkok called the Sarika Steakhouse, opened by this Japanese soldier who stayed in Bangkok after World War Two,” says Shikami. “All he sold were ‘sizzle plates’ with meat and mashed potatoes. So I put it on my lunch menu here [$14 to $16] and it immediately became the bestseller.” Customers choose sauces (teriyaki, Korean, miso, Thai curry) and meats/proteins (salmon, beef, tofu, or chicken), which sounds like quite a departure from the involved creations of his previous chefs, his brother Kevin Shikami and Ryan McCaskey. For now, Shikago has regular hours for lunch only, but dinner and a handcrafted sushi bar are coming soon.

She Said It

“I will never forget the time he did a roundhouse kick on me because he saw that move in a karate movie. We pretty much disagree on everything. If we agreed on everything, there’s no need for two of us. Right?” –Kelly Yu, on her brother Sheng Long Yu, her partner at the new Shinto Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar (1778 N. Aurora Rd., Suite 108, Naperville; 630-637-8899), a 350-seat spot with Chicagoland’s first environmentally conscious downdraft hibachi grill

Make a Run for a Different Border

You know that the times they are a-changin’ when an old Taco Bell in Naperville becomes Naf Naf (1095 E. Ogden Ave., Naperville; 630-904-7200), a casual Israeli restaurant. “This is as authentic as it gets,” says Alon Altman, a partner (with Sahar Sander and Elan Burger) at the 30-seat spot. “The shawarma, the falafel. The pita. The pitas are fresh—baked right here every day. We also have a veggie feast: You get Israeli salad, cabbage salad, hummus, baba ghannouj, six falafel balls, and pita [$9].” Do customers order at the counter, à la the previous occupant? “You can order at the counter,” says Altman. “You can sit down and have a waitress. You can do anything you want.”

Coming Soon

Fuego Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar (2047 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 312-252-1122), a 250-seat Logan Square spin on the three-year-old Arlington Heights spot of the same name, opens in early March—with huge ambitions. “We want to bring a picture of Mexico’s rich culture that is under-represented in the Chicago area,” says Eddie Nahlawi, the owner. “Chefs like [Frontera Grill’s Rick] Bayless and [Richard] Sandoval [Pampano, Maya] have done a good job of bringing what that rich land can offer in the way of culinary experience, but nobody includes value and education in the same concept.” Fuego’s menu, by exec chef Juan Luis Gonzalez and sous-chefs Riccardo Muñoz (formerly of Spago) and Marcelo Gallegos (formerly of Vivere), includes recipes from  Gonzalez’s grandmother, moles, plenty of “unique” chilis, and 200-plus tequilas. And Nahlawi promises some big names in the upstairs concert venue: “It’ll be a general market from Fergie to John Legend and Kid Rock, but will touch on the Latin entertainment scene, too.”

Seinfeld on Food

George: I always have tuna on toast. Nothing’s ever worked out for me with tuna on toast. I want the complete opposite of tuna on toast. Chicken salad on rye, untoasted, with a side of potato salad and a cup of tea.

Jerry: You know, chicken salad’s not the opposite of tuna. Salmon’s the opposite of tuna, because salmon swim against the current and the tuna swim with it.

George: Good for the tuna.

Quick Hit

Here’s all you need to know about Osteria Ottimo (16111 S. LaGrange Rd., Orland Park; 708-403-3366), the new 1950s-style spot from Scott Harris (Mia Francesca) and Patrick Concannon (Don Juan’s): Every Tuesday is spaghetti and meatballs family-style, and every Thursday is lasagna night. It’s basically ridiculously large portions of red-sauce Italian in a wood-trimmed block-party spot; on a recent visit Pollack was charmed but not bowled over. Her favorite dishes were the bruschetta piled high with soft-cooked garlicky eggplant slices, and the affogato, which was like a thick espresso milk shake. The best moment came when Ray, the waiter, introduced his assistant, Ruben. Never had that happen before—a waiter who shares the credit with someone lower on the food chain.

Cheap Things to Do

  1. Help Atwood Cafe (1 W. Washington St.; 312-368-1900) celebrate its tenth anniversary through October by trying one of its classic entrées for $10. (Ten years, ten months, $10. Get it?) We missed Janarury, but this month it’s cavatappi with duck confit.
  2. If you’re in Highland Park on February 16th, you might think of stopping by Michael’s Chicago-Style Red Hots (1879 Second St., Highland Park; 847- 432-3338) at 11:30 a.m., when the cast of Xanadu will perform a musical number while you eat your jumbo Xanadu Dog for only $2. (It’s normally $4.39.)
  3. Go to One Sixtyblue (1400 W. Randolph St.; 312-850-0303) on a Thursday night and enjoy $4 burgers, $4 craft beers, and a DJ that is presumably worth more than $4.
  4. Watch this charmingly funny video extolling the virtues of Trader Joe’s.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

North and Clark Café (1601 N. Clark St.; 312-642-4600), a grill in the Chicago History Museum, opens on February 12th to pay homage to the city’s history with details such as “the original 1893 World’s Fair brownie” and its neighborhoods (Stockyards Black Angus Burger, the Little Village Mexican Omelet, et cetera). . . . Not only is Haussmann Brasserie (305 S. Happ Rd., Northfield), Jacky Pluton’s short-lived spot, history, but so is JP Tavern, the casual concept that Pluton planned to put in the doomed North Shore space after Haussmann closed. . . . Say it ain’t so, Mr. Beef. . . . The north suburban outpost of The Palm (2000 Northbrook Ct., Northbrook) has closed. . . . Macello’s (1235 W. Lake St.; 312-850-9870) has been shuttered temporarily due to a fire on January 28th. “It was an electric fire from a fax machine,” says Giovanni DiNigris, the chef/owner. “We have to close for a couple of months.” . . . Hearty Boys (3819 N. Broadway; 773-244-9866) has added a Sunday brunch (Tang mimosas! Lemon ricotta pancakes!) to the site of its cooking school/catering space. . . . Check out the impressive relaunch of Says Chris LaMorte, UrbanDaddy’s Chicago editor: “The site is bigger, fancier, and has more photos of hot girls drinking ice-cold cocktails