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Almost as Good as Arun's at a Tenth of the Price

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Indie Cafe

5951 N. Broadway

773-561-5577

It may be wrong to celebrate a restaurant's closing, but when its replacement is as good as INDIE CAFE, there's reason to rejoice. Indie just took over the tiny space previously occupied by Lily of Thai, a comfy but mediocre neighborhood Thai place. The new restaurant serves Thai food too, along with Japanese, but it's way above average in terms of quality, presentation, and value. The Andaman Salad, for instance, a substantial melange of steamed shrimp, succulent scallops, and calamari tossed with red onion, shredded carrots, and a sauce made with lemongrass, lime, and hot peppers, perfectly balances sweet, salty, spicy, and crunchy. And it's a bargain at $8. The richness of the red curry and the subtle sweetness of the coconut milk in the Indie Signature Curry are likewise exquisitely counterpoised--it's tempting to slurp the leftover sauce straight from the bowl when you're done with the tender chunks of beef and potato. The sushi, made by chef and owner Montra Kaenkumjorn, is delicious too. The Volcano Roll is nori rolled tight around thick slices of smoked salmon, yellowtail, crab, and octopus, with a luscious spicy mayo and speckles of bright red sriracha hot sauce on top. The individual nigiri, two to an order ($3-$6), are fresh, generous cuts of fish on delicately seasoned rice pillows. Everything is arranged beautifully: maki slices stand in a circle next to tiny mountains of ginger and wasabi and swirls of spicy mayo dotted with black sesame seeds; curries have sprigs of greens jutting out at acute angles and frilly herb garnishes. Ouddy Puncharean and Iggy Waranon (a co-owner) make the Thai food; Waranon learned from her mother in Bangkok. "My mom is very good cook," she says. "Most of what she taught me is very authentic Thai. I try not to change very much to cook here, but Thai people like to eat very spicy food. Americans don't like spicy food usually." If you ask for your food Thai hot, she'll accommodate you. Arun Sampanthavivat might want to take note of this place, as the food here comes closer to his exquisite cuisine than anything else in town, and at a fraction of the prices at Arun's. "We want to make the restaurant where the neighbor can walk and eat out every day," says Waranon. "If it's too pricey the neighbor can't come every day." Indie Cafe is BYO; bring a crisp sparkling wine, Prosecco, champagne, cava, or a rounded acidic white from Alsace or Austria's Wachau Valley.

Angel Food Bakery

1636 W. Montrose

773-728-1512

For ten years Stephanie Samuels's baked goods were available by special order only. She made cakes for weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, and other special occasions out of the kitchen of her studio apartment in Andersonville. Then a space that she'd had her eye on for years opened on the corner of Montrose and Marshfield. "I just like the corner," she says. "There's a lot of businesses that have come and gone in that space." She remembers a few of them: "There was a restaurant equipment store; I think there was a Mexican restaurant, and two other cafes. Before I got there a woman had a small little funky cafe called the Sahara Cafe for like nine months. But there was no equipment there at all. I had to build the space out and build a real kitchen." She finally opened ANGEL FOOD BAKERY in September. The window's filled with elaborate cakes--a pink single-layer number with bright orange flowers, a four-tiered white meringue wedding cake, and a winter-themed creation decorated with white snowballs and snowflakes made from fondant--but I love Samuels's takeoffs on Hostess favorites: the Twinkie-like Airstream, an imitation Sno Ball called the Igloo, and a chocolate-covered whoopie pie that tastes like a Ding Dong. She makes a homemade version of Nabisco's Fig Newton too. "I love nostalgia," says Samuels, "and I wanted to make things people think you couldn't possibly re-create, like those processed snacks." Angel Food's less whimsical fare includes tart lemon squares, dense, moist carrot layer cake, and rich fudge brownies. In October Samuels added a menu of lunch items like a roasted autumn-vegetable sandwich stuffed with beet, zucchini, carrot, eggplant, tomato, and mozzarella and dressed with pesto; a poached chicken breast sandwich with red-onion marmalade; and several frittatas and savory tarts. Each day there's a special Commuter Sandwich for breakfast; on a recent morning it was a scrumptious combination of prosciutto, brie, and fig jam on a slender ficelle (a tiny baguette). "It's a nice change of pace from sweets," Samuels says. Her love of nostalgia is apparent in her decorating choices: the walls are bright pistachio green and sky blue, and the shelves are lined with her collection of Easy-Bake Ovens.

Blu 47

4655 S. martin Luther King Dr.

773-536-6000

Just blocks from the recently opened Negro League Cafe (301 E. 43rd), BLU 47 is easy to miss: it's upstairs from the Spoken Word Cafe and there's no sign. It's drawing a crowd anyway--fashionable people fill the cocktail lounge and the dining room, which serves contemporary American food, every night (except Sunday, when the restaurant's closed). The space is cool but inviting, with blue track lights and high-backed brown leather banquettes, but the food could use some fine-tuning. A shrimp de jonghe starter was coated in crunchy, garlicky bread crumbs, but the six plump crustaceans weren't moist enough to make the crumbs stick. The cocktail sauce that came with would've been great with shrimp cocktail. The salad section of the menu is unfocused: there's a Tuscan salad with yellow raisins, walnuts, and Gorgonzola next to a grilled-steak nicoise with the classic accompaniments of potatoes, green beens, and olives. Most of chef David Blackmon's entrees have a Cajun slant: the catfish--stuffed with crabmeat, rolled into a cylinder, and deep-fried--is a family recipe. But the beurre blanc sauce it came with had separated, so the fish floated in butter alongside globs of milk solids. The duck jambalaya had good flavor from its andouille sausage and tomato base. There's also a pasta with grilled chicken and Italian sausage, vegetable napoleon with sun-dried tomatoes and a pesto sauce, and a grilled pork chop in a coconut-rum and caramelized pineapple sauce. Service couldn't be more attentive; in fact it bordered on obtrusive. Live bands play jazz or blues on Thursday nights.

Other Recent Openings

Al Dente Cafe, 1615 N. Clybourn, 312-587-0055. The second Italian venture by II Jack's Italian Restaurant owner Jack Cerone.

Chestnut Grill & Wine Bar, 200 E. Chestnut, 312-266-4500. New piano bar and American grill from Benny Siddu (Volare) and Lezlie Keebler (Biggs).

Enoteca Roma, 2146 W. Division, 773-342-1011. Tiny wine bar next door to Letizia's Natural Bakery. Serves bruschetta, panini, and pizza.

Hot Spot, 2824 W. Armitage, 773-770-3838. Logan Square breakfast joint.

JP Chicago, 901 W. Weed, 312-337-2001. Jason Paskewitz and Marc Bortz of Sangria Lounge and Tapas Bar opened this casual contemporary-American place next door.

Prairie Grass Cafe, 601 Skokie, Northbrook, 847-205-4433. Chef Sarah Stegner of the Ritz-Carlton Dining Room opened this considerably less formal suburban restaurant.

Sizzle on Broadway, 6157 N. Broadway, 773-465-9500. American eatery and bar in the old Pumping Company space. There's live music or a DJ on weekends.

Triad Sushi Lounge, 1933 S. Indiana, 312-225-8833. Trendy sushi place with a broad selection of appetizers and maki, big, meaty entrees, and late-night karaoke.

Usagi Ya, 1178 N. Milwaukee, 773-292-5885. East Ukrainian Village pan-Asian with two tearooms and a sushi bar.

Closed

Express Cafe Cuban Cuisine, 5973 N. Clark; Lily of Thai, 5951 N. Broadway.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/A. Jackson.

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