Poetry in Motion
Steve Schwartz, the owner of Campagnola (815 Chicago Ave., Evanston; 847-475-6100), is almost set to open Wild Geese (1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston), an eclectic restaurant with a huge bar. . “We had a guy come from Vermont who built the wood-burning oven,” Schwartz says. “It’s absolutely beautiful.” Pizzas and small plates will be on the menu, but Schwartz is reluctant to pigeonhole the restaurant, which shares a common performance/party space with a neighboring recording studio. And Wild Geese may sound like a random name for a pizzeria, but it comes from a poem of the same name by Mary Oliver: “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting . . . ”

Out Lao’d
They say you should never open a restaurant in January, and Tony Hu didn’t. He opened two. On January 1st, Hu, the owner of Chinatown’s Lao Sze Chuan (2172 S. Archer Ave.; 312-326-5040), opened Lao Shanghai (2163 S. China Pl.; 312-808-0830) and Lao Beijing (2138 S. Archer Ave.; 312-881-0168), both in Chinatown Square. Why both? “I want to show American people how wonderful authentic Shanghai cuisine is,” Hu says. “It is very light and healthy, lots of vegetables and bean curd. And there are no good Beijing restaurants in Chinatown. We serve Peking duck, lots of dumpling sauce, wheat noodles, dim sum.”

“You don’t get tired of muffins, but you don’t find inspiration in them.” –George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), Irish playwright

Frida Fighters

In mid-January, Marlene and Lidia Benitez plan to open La Cocina de Frida (5403 N. Clark St.; 773-271-1907), a 45-seat Mexican restaurant named for Frida Kahlo, in Andersonville’s old Angel’s space. “The concept is made-from-scratch Mexican food and family recipe cooking,” says Lidia, the chef. “My grandmother in Guerrero always cooked from scratch.” Frida will feature tortillas handmade every day, ample enchiladas with a choice of sauce and filling (Want mole negro with plantain filling? You got it), and buñuelos (fried flat dough) with an apricot-honey infusion. “We are not afraid to serve the odd things they serve in Mexico, like berros [a tart, spinachy leaf like watercress],” says Lidia. “You sauté it with garlic and onion, pour on a ranchero sauce, serve it with black beans and big slice of queso fresco, and you’re good to go with a nice lunch.”

Pollo Chronicles

Ruby here. Speaking of Mexico, that’s where I was last week, on a tiny island so idyllic I refuse to identify it. For lunch, my family and I ate the same thing every day, which we got from a guy up the street for 80 pesos: a whole achiote-seasoned rotisserie chicken. We pulled it apart with our fingers, wrapped juicy chunks in corn tortillas, sprinkled on purple pickled onions, and maybe spritzed on a lime. My father-in-law and I washed it down with a bottle of Dos Equis, maybe two. Every day, for a week. On a balcony overlooking the ocean. I am not happy to be home.

After 16 Years, It Should Be Special
It’s only fitting that Rashad Moughrabi opened Pomegranate (1633 Orrington Ave., Evanston; 847-475-6002), his own restaurant, this past June. “That’s how it works,” says Moughrabi. “My dad is a cook and his dad was a cook.” And just like at his dad’s place in Hyde Park (The Nile, 1611 E. 55th St.; 773-324-9499), the chicken shawarma at Pomegranate is really popular. “We debone the chickens in house. Marinate them from 24 to 48 hours. And then we build it up onto the spit, hang it, cook it all day, and shave it for each sandwich. Been manipulating the marinade for the last 16 years. We’ve got it to where we are comfortable with it.” You think?

Violet, You’re Turning Violet
Violet (3819 N. Southport; 773-327-0234), a six-week-old Lake View breakfast spot, has a wild résumé. This is venture number three for Julie Palmer, who also owns Red Kiva and Mona Lisa Pizza. The chef, Scott Reading, has clocked in time at Avec, Le Français, Park Avenue Café, and Gordon. The place has a fireplace and is a BYO breakfast, lunch, and Internet café, and the menu sports oddball dishes like Creole Benedict and chicken lollipops. Hope we didn’t miss anything.

Locked Out
We were disappointed by an early visit to Lockwood (17 E. Monroe St.; 312-917-3404), the Palmer House’s new restaurant. Temperature problems abounded, the parking situation confounded, and the salad was as undressed as the fat guy in Borat. No fewer than a dozen different staffers, seemingly coming and going at will, attended to our table. (One guy stopped by and said, “Folks, I’ll be right with you.” We never saw him again.) Our favorite, though, was the dude who solicited our dessert order. When we asked what layers were in the banana napoleon, he blanked. We tried to help out and ask, “Was it a mille-feuille?” and he said, “It’s not that many.”

Things to Do

  1. Go to the Dill Pickle Food Co-op Benefit Concert on January 19th at AV-aerie (2000 W. Fulton St.). Three bands (Pit er Pat, Detholz!, and Reds and Blue) will play and two DJs (Bobby Conn and Mary Nisi) will spin to raise funds for the forthcoming Dill Pickle Food Co-op, an organic, member-owned grocery store at 3039 West Fullerton Avenue in Logan Square.
  2. Seek out Peeling the Wild Onion: A Collection of Chicago Culinary Culture (Favorite Recipes Press, 2007), the Junior League of Chicago’s 190-recipe love letter to Chicago’s seasons, traditions, and restaurants.
  3. Watch this racy IKEA commercial, which never aired in the U.S.

Dot Dot Dot . . .
Opened: Lito’s Empanadas (2566 N. Clark St.; 773-857-1337), a South American spot in Lincoln Park that offers one thing and one thing only—empanadas; Gumbo A Go-Go (45 N. Bothwell St., Palatine; 847-934-4646), a Cajun-Creole spot, has launched in the northwest suburbs; Asian Harbor (1930 Ridge Rd., Homewood; 708-799-5388), a Thai/Japanese spot in the south suburbs . . . Closing: La Strada (155 N. Michigan Ave.), a longtime Italian stalwart on Michigan Avenue, on January 5th . . . Closed: Meritage Café & Wine Bar (2118 N. Damen Ave.), after ten years of rocking Bucktown . . . Revamped: the upscale Mexican spot La Casa Del Gordo (2014 First St., Highland Park; 847-266-1411) has changed its menu, lowered its prices, and gone altogether more casual. . . . .Three smart writers. Six top wedding caterers. One helpful article.