Bye-Bye Body Sushi
Set to open in three weeks, Ai Sushi Lounge (358 W. Ontario St.; 312-335-9888) is the third brain child of Agnes Yoshikawa and Eugene Chua, the brother-and-sister team who own Tsuki (1441 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-883-8722) and Ringo (2507 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-248-5788). Since Toyoji Hemmi, Tsuki’s sushi whiz, will now split his time between Tsuki and Ai, we asked Rai Calma, Ai Sushi’s general manager, whether we should expect a Tsuki knockoff. “Tsuki is more tapas style. The nigiri and sushi will be there, but this kitchen will focus on entrées, so people can course out a more traditional meal,” said Calma. Here’s hoping the place does better than the previous sushi bar at this address. That was Kizoku, a Vegas-type extravaganza where you could pick well-placed sushi off of barely clad women. Not a tradition in Chicago.

Panini and Gelato
Most Italian food here has been “institutionalized and watered down by big chain restaurants,” says Dan Sachs, the guy who jump-started the wine bar craze when he opened Bin 36 (339 N. Dearborn St.; 312-755-9463) in 1999. So come September, Sachs will unveil A Mano directly below Bin 36 at 335 North Dearborn Street. Among other authentic Italian treats, he promises some things unique to Chicago. Like what? A panini bar and a gelato bar. He sent his executive chef, John Caputo, to Carpigiani Gelato University for two days and then to Bologna to learn how to make gelato from the best. “Our goal is to make the gelato [bar] a destination in and of itself for people living in Chicago.” Wow; we didn’t know Italian ice cream could sound so lofty.

More Panini, More Gelato
The only trace left of the old Lava Lounge in Ukrainian Village is the tin ceiling. Beyond the earth-toned décor, the owners, Phil McFarland and Ty Fujimura (SmallBar), turned the space into their first non-alcohol, purely food venture and renamed it Piccolo Cafe (859 N. Damen Ave.; 773-772-3355). Now you can carry out or drop in for some freshly made bruschetta, panini, a soft drink, a cup of coffee, or some bottled water. But the place’s secret weapon is the gelato made in house by Eddie Navar (Carnivale, HotChocolate). He has masterminded flavors such as peach-thyme, lemon-basil, and chocolate-curry. We’re holding out for chocolate-cayenne. Navar’s working on it.

Yay, Sister

As a diehard fan of neighborhood Italian joints, Pollack couldn’t wait to give newbie Via Carducci La Sorella (1928 W. Division St.; 773-252-2244) a try. And just like Via Carducci (1419 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-665-1981), its older sib, the place delivered. The house salad was perfectly pleasant; prosciutto with mozzarella kicked the action up a notch; and the bass baked in parchment was downright sophisticated for an unassuming two-day-old trattoria.

Beverly Benefits
Three years ago Blair and Shirley Makinney opened Beverly’s Pantry (1907 W. 103rd St.; 773-238-8550), a retail shop dedicated to “gourmet everyday,” says their daughter Christy Makinney. When the space next door came available, the Makinneys snapped it up for Café 103 (1909 W. 103rd St.; 773-238-5115), a fine-dining spot and natural extension of the store where they were already running sit-down dinners for private parties. Their chef, Thomas Eckert, (Vermilion, Monsoon) wants to bring more globally influenced cuisine to Beverly, and with appetizers like pheasant breast, done sous vide and served over chanterelle carnaroli rice with masala sauce, he’s got a shot at achieving his goal. (Good to know: the 28-seat white-tablecloth dining room takes reservations and is BYO.)

“Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.” –Doug Larson (1902-81), 1924 Olympic Games gold medalist

Double or Nothing
“In order to do things right, sometimes you have to wait,” says Jimmy Alexander (Pegasus), owner of Powerhouse Restaurant and Bar (215 N. Clinton St). Alexander has been working on his massive, 9,000-square-foot-well, powerhouse of a restaurant, for nearly a year now and expects an opening in late September. Formerly the home of train generators, the landmark-status building will hold two kitchens, one fine dining (think dry-aged steaks and seafood) and one casual, with salad and sandwich fare.

Things to Do
1. Conduct a personal taste test between Chicago staple Garrett Popcorn Shop (4 E. Madison St.; 312-263-8087) and Dip & Pop (63 E. Madison St.; 312-629-1777), Rudy Malnati’s (Pizano’s) new popcorn and ice-cream shop.
2. Hope this isn’t going to be another finger-in-the-chili incident.
3. Drink while you shop at the new Whole Foods at 3640 North Halsted Street. For a small fee, the store’s enomatic machine allows you to sample up to 16 different kinds of wines before committing to the bottle. Then cab it home.
4. Cast your ballot for what you think will turn up on Art Smith’s menu at Table Fifty-two (52 W. Elm St.; 312-573-4000) slated to open its doors July 31st.

Dot Dot Dot . . .
Anyone familiar with coastal Asian cuisine? Because that’s what The Restaurant at Conrad (521 N. Rush St.; 312-377-0979) is now serving up on its menu. . . . As reported on The Stew, Henry Adaniya, former owner of Trio, has returned to his roots in Hawaii to open Hank’s Haute Dogs, a gourmet-hot-dog stand on Oahu. . . . Trattoria Gemelli (3755 Grand Blvd., Brookfield; 708-387-2445) is opening Toscanino, an Italian specialty grocery and catering operation across the street from the restaurant in early September. . . . A fifth Penny’s Noodle Shop (320 S. Happ Rd., Northfield; 847-446-4747)-the cheap-eats Thai joint-opened July 2nd in Northfield. . . . Hometown classic Harry Caray’s (see for all locations) will be expanding to Lombard in August with two new restaurants, an Italian steak house and a seafood restaurant, both in the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center.

On a personal note . . .

Grant Achatz, the enormously talented chef/owner of Alinea, is a class act. He has been since he burst on the Chicago scene at Trio (straight from The French Laundry), where he raised the bar for culinary excellence in our community as well as on the world stage. As most of you are no doubt aware, Achatz announced earlier this week that he had been diagnosed with an advanced stage of squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth. True to his personal and professional dedication, Achatz intends to fight the disease and, in his words, “Alinea will continue to perform at the level people have come to expect from us.” We have no doubt that whatever trials he now faces, Achatz will meet them with style and grace.