Eat Here. Now.

More often than not, we know all about any remotely promising restaurant months before it serves its first meal, but every now and then, a true gem comes out of nowhere. Han 202 (605 W. 31st St.; 312-949-1314), a chic 38-seat Amercian/pan-Asian BYO that opened two months ago in Bridgeport, is just such a place. Guan Chen, the chef-partner and his wife, Yan Ruan (former owners of Evanston’s Nine Fish), push the envelope with their prix fixe menu (five courses; $20. “That’s nice value, right?” asks Ruan, in the understatement of the year). On a recent visit, the miso soups—both vegetable tofu and spicy king crab—got the meal off to a murky start but the tender beef in the lemongrass salad and the juicy walnut shrimp perked things right up. Grouper held its own under a blanket of julienned ginger and scallion, and the medium rare duck breast looked and tasted like a $25 entrée in its own right. Sweet, attentive service and the simple house-made vanilla ice cream topped with mango-tomato sherbet hit the spot. Best $20 we’ve spent in ages. Tip: It won’t be BYO for long.


“When I was 14 years old, I decided I could cook. It was either that or puberty.”  –Dom DeLuise (1933-2009), American actor

5 Questions for Tonya Pyatt

Pyatt, formerly at Webster’s Wine Bar, is a partner at Rootstock Wine & Beer Bar (954 N. California Ave.; 773-292-1616), a popular three-week-old spot in Humboldt Park.

D: What’s the vibe like at Rootstock?
TP: No TVs. I will rotate the art of local artists every two months. We keep the music at a nice conversation level. Furniture is very comfortable. All mismatched tables and chairs that we found antiquing and on Craigslist.

D: What kind of food do you serve?
TP: We offer small bar plates as well as amazing cheeses and charcuterie. Organic and hormone-free meats, seasonal produce. Our number one seller is bourbon-glazed market mushrooms on grilled flatbread with a Vivace cheese, and pea shoots [$7]. And right now we have a house-made bacon toffee, made by Remy Ayesh, our chef. She was the fromagère at Spiaggia.

D: And your wine and beer program?
TP: We focus on small-production wines that emphasize sustainable farming practices. A lot of organic and biodynamic wine. And the beer list also is higher-quality, smaller-production beers. No Bud Light.

D: How is the neighborhood responding?
TP: We have people who have returned six, seven times already. It’s really the perfect location in the perfect neighborhood. This neighborhood was desperate for a little wine and beer bar that serves food late.

D: How late?
TP: Our kitchen stays open until 1 a.m., seven days a week. People do not have to call and ask: Is your kitchen still open? Because it is. Otherwise your only option around here is Arturo’s Tacos

Rich Meal, Poor Man

Cafe Con Leche Bucktown (1732 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-342-2233), a tiny Bucktown BYO, serves molletes ($4), which the owner, Ulysses Salamanca, calls “the Mexican poor man’s meal.” “We serve four tiny pieces of French bread smothered with black beans, pico de gallo, and melted cheese,” says Salamanca. “It’s very typical in Mexico City, where my family comes from. People will have it in the morning with coffee, have it for lunch. And if you want to get fancy you can add meat to it.”

He Said It

“One of my chefs told me there was an auction going on down there at the old Ambassador West in Chicago when it went condo about 12 years ago. I got a very large mirror, crown molding from one of their old banquet rooms, one of the marble tables they had. Plaster curtains that were built into the wall. Cut those out and grabbed those also. I missed the old brass revolving door. Don’t know who got it. I’ve been saving this stuff for years, waiting for a place to put it in.” –Joe Barrutia, co-owner of Agio Italian Bistro (64 S. Northwest Hwy., Palatine; 847-991-2150), a four-month-old ristorante with its own 1,000-bottle wine room in a Palatine shopping center

Cheap Things to Do

  1. Sample the new salads and smoothies at any Panera Bread for free on June 11th. To find one near you.
  2. Sign up at any Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, whether you eat there or not, for a chance to win all kinds of good stuff, like 20 steaks, 20 lobster tails, 20 bottles of cabernet. Yep, the chain is already 20 years old. Doesn’t look a day over ten.
  3. Eat all kinds of $2 tapas on the new patio at Mesón Sabika (1025 Aurora Ave., Naperville; 630-983-3000) any weekday during happy hour (4 to 6 p.m.).
  4. Watch the most ambitious beer commercial ever.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Lan’s Old Town (1507 N. Sedgwick St.; 312-255-9888), a Chinese BYO, has opened in the former Heat space in Old Town. . . . Last week, we said that the building that will house The Purple Pig (500 N. Michigan Ave.) was also known as “The Bob Newhart Building.” As several of you told us, Newhart’s office building on his show was actually at 430 North Michigan Avenue. We’re sorry, Bob. . . . Mambo Grill, formerly of 412 North Clark Street, will reopen in a larger space a few blocks west at 410 North Wells Street in fall 2009. . . . Sign Spotting #1: Garrett Popcorn on Ontario Street, just east of Michigan Avenue. . . . Sign Spotting #2: Ciao Pizzeria Napoli (2607 N. Milwaukee Ave.), in the old Abril space in Logan Square. . . . Sign Spotting #3: Melanthios, a Greek steak house at 3124 North Broadway. . . . The $250 price tag may be steep, but this “Sound Opinions” dinner on June 19th with Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis sounds fun and original—five gourmet courses, five wines, five albums.