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What's New: Kleiner's Latest Room, a Steak and Potatoes Supper Club, and Certified Organic Pizza

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Room 21

2110 S. Wabash

312-328-1198

Jerry Kleiner (Red Light, Marche, Opera, etc) knows how to razzle-dazzle 'em. Room 21, his latest project, follows his favorite scenario: reclaim a space with headline-grabbing potential and give it an over-the-top makeover as a destination restaurant in a soon-to-be-hot neighborhood. In this case, the backstory--printed on the menu--involves a Prohibition-era warehouse owned by Al Capone, Eliot Ness's first bust, and an escape passage ending in a door labeled "Room 21." The renovation channels an old Chicago bordello: velvet drapes, alligator-pattern banquettes, clusters of hanging lamp shades, huge potted palms, and an eye-popping color scheme of pinks, greens, reds, and black and white. (There's also a lovely walled garden that's less noisy than the earsplitting dining room.) Kleiner's chutzpah extends to $15 martinis and a $44 rib eye, but he's also savvy enough to offer a $12 burger and a better-than-decent bottle of Penfolds shiraz for $18. The generally pricey wine list, with bottles up to $650, gets high marks for its user-friendly organization. As for the food, my meal was mixed. Mildly seasoned tuna tartare let the flavor of the silky cubed fish shine, but crab risotto cakes, highly recommended by our server as "made with lump and backfin crab," tasted mostly of rice. Entrees arrived lukewarm, but the steak Diane--at $19, the least expensive steak--was perfectly cooked (rare as ordered), coated with subtle cognac sauce, and served with a mountain of crisp salted fries. I found the roasted halibut fillet rather dry but liked the sweet corn puree, mushrooms, and crisp sugar snap peas that came beneath it. Of the three desserts, chocolate-filled beignets with chocolate mousse outclassed a sludgy apple-blueberry crisp. Long waits between courses and food runners who wandered the room looking for the right tables were among the signs that the service needs work. This week word came of executive chef Aaron Whitcomb's departure; a replacement is in the works. --Anne Spiselman

Cordis Brothers Supper Club

1625 W. Irving Park

773-935-1000

Wise Fools Pub owners Mike and Dan Cordis set themselves an interesting challenge: update the meat-and-potatoes supper club--a concept practically synonymous with "stale"--and make it relevant. I'm not sure they've succeeded, but with Cordis Brothers Supper Club they have built a comfortable neighborhood joint, much like its predecessor Biasetti's, with a few modern touches (no self-respecting old-guard tray would be caught dead wearing hummus and sun-dried tomato butter). Despite the DJs--on laptops, not decks--and a rib eye cooked medium-rare perfect, however, I still kept looking around for my grandparents and the overcooked saddle leather they used to serve at the Wagon Wheel. Some dishes relied unsubtly on the flavors I associate with their generation: the soy mustard that dressed a seared tuna appetizer was slug-shrivelingly salty, and the lasagna Bolognese had so much sugar and spice it screamed for birthday candles. But big portions of meat, fish, and pasta were served by a waitstaff that's both friendly and on top of its game. One of the brothers spent much of the evening chumming it up at the tables, doing his best to build a loyal, regular clientele, which is exactly what this place will need to make it. --Mike Sula

Crust

2056 W. Division

773-235-5511

With Crust, his casual new flatbread-pizza place--the city's first certified organic restaurant--chef Michael Altenberg (or more precisely, his design team) seems bound and determined to rescue organic food from every hanging fern and wind chime that ever dogged its reputation. Formerly occupied by Settimana, the huge space has been transformed into a sleek modern dining hall with bright orange molded plastic chairs and trippy formica tables; the spacious back patio and sidewalk cafe add seats for another 120. The pizza--er, flatbreads--have an airy, chewy, well-proofed crust and are topped with everything from savory silver dollars of pepperoni to a Greek mix of artichokes, olives, and feta to a take on an Alsatian Flammkuchen (caramelized onion, bacon, and caraway seeds with a bechamel sauce). All, meat included, tastes shockingly fresh; the baby greens in my Sun Salad (a tasty mix of greens and seaweed in a plum-miso dressing) had to have had their lives cut violently short that very day. The bar offers a brief but respectable wine and beer list, plus a selection of cocktails with infused organic vodka. --Martha Bayne

Other recent openings

Caoba

1619 N. Damen | 773-342-2622

Cosmospolitan

954 N. California | 773-227-8888

Machu Picchu

3865 N. Ashland |773-472-0471

Orange on Roscoe

2011 W. Roscoe | 773-248-0999

South Coast

1700 S. Michigan | 312-662-1700

V.I.C.E.

840 W. Randolph | 312-733-3374

For more on restaurants, see our blog The Food Chain at chicagoreader.com.

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

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