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First Impressions/ She She's Nicole Parthemore and Dana Hechtman

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Lincoln Square keeps moving further upscale with new restaurants opening all around the Old Town School of Folk Music. Most recently, Nicole Parthemore and Dana Hechtman defected from Tomboy to convert a former electrician's office into She She, a Contemporary American restaurant. The brief, eclectic menu includes, as "firsts," French onion soup with a melted Gruyere crostini bubbling on top and a "she she" roll made of nori rolled around sherry-mustard-glazed cooked salmon, tobiko (wasabi-infused caviar), and wasabi aioli, served with a wedge of still more wasabi, but no soy sauce. "Second" they offer a simple vegetarian penne dish with teardrop tomatoes in a garlicky white wine broth, a generous center-cut pork chop on Gorgonzola mashed potatoes with a mildly tangy apple-arugula chutney, and a seared yellowfin tuna crusted with a subtle mix of peppercorns, sesame seeds, lemon zest, and garlic on wasabi mashed potatoes with marinated cucumbers and pickled seaweed salad. The storefront dining room is simply done in tones of gray with subtle wall sconces and a tin ceiling. The bar and facing kitchen divide the space--most of the tables are in front, but a few for smoking can be found in the rear. This place is not for the agoraphobic. Tables are extremely close together, music is loud, and there's a minor bottleneck around the bar. Bustling it is, relaxing, go elsewhere. She She, 4539 N. Lincoln, 773-293-3690.

Cesare D'Ortenzi (La Bocca della Verita) and Lucia Mazzocchetti opened Pizza D.O.C. in September. The name refers to the stamp of approval given to Italian wine, cheese, and other food products of verifiably high quality. D'Ortenzi holds everything in his establishment up to the same exacting standards. He even brought star Roman chef Gualtiero Carosi along from La Bocca. Pizza crusts are rolled thin with a dowel then topped with different combinations of tomato, mozzarella, artichoke, porcini mushrooms, and even ham and eggs, and cooked in a wood-burning oven. For heartier appetites there are pasta dishes, gnocchi alla romano with fresh basil, and a few (meatless) risotto options, plus a couple specialties that deserve attention. One is coda alla vaccinara--oxtail baked with celery, carrots, onion, and tomato--the other, osso buco alla Milanese, is tender braised veal shanks with carrots and onion served with a buttery saffron risotto. The dining room is simple and attractive, with lacquered wood panels between salmon-colored walls, tasteful black-and-white photos of Roman ruins set off by oddly shaped halogen lights, and a few large feathery plants in the center. A table displays the vegetables for the antipasto misto--grilled eggplant, yellow and green zucchini, and roasted scallions--and baskets of rustic bread made on the premises. This place holds promise, and blows away the majority of Italian-American places that call themselves authentic.

Pizza D.O.C., 2251 W. Lawrence, 773-784-8777.

In January, Jose Gonzalez opened Mambo, a cute Cuban storefront across from the Northwestern University campus. He seems to have limited his investment in the decor--the canary yellow walls look somewhere between faux and unfinished, and the banquette and chairs are unattractively weathered. Nevertheless, the small room offers some fine fare.

A small cup of sopa de pollo, a flavorful chicken broth with chicken and vegetables that's redolent of fresh ground spices like cumin, coriander, and black pepper, is served as a complimentary starter (it's also a menu option in a larger portion). The Cuban sandwiches are good for a casual meal but the platillos, the classic entrees, and even the ordenes, the side dishes, are more interesting. The lechon asado could convert any reluctant pork eater--the meat is marinated for three days in a garlic mojo then slow roasted till tender and served with a timbale of rice and yuca. You could make a meal of the sides: sweet pan-fried plantains; thick-cut strips of yuca deep-fried until crispy on the outside, creamy and smooth on the inside; and black beans cooked with ham and boldly spiced with cumin. Mango, guava, and banana batidos (shakes) are refreshing counterpoints to the savory food. No alcohol is served, but you can bring your own. One warning: when the place is full it's hard for the solo server to handle the whole room, so patience may be required. Mambo, 726 Clark, Evanston, 847-570-9616.

The Dish

Toast is popping up all over. Dion and Jeanne Antic of Food and Drink (Iggy's, Harry's Velvet Room) are cloning their successful Lincoln Park breakfast spot: a Chicago and Franklin location opened February 11, and a third Toast will open March 10 at 2046 N. Damen.

Debra Sharpe's newest venture, Tanzy, opened February 22 across from Pipers Alley (and next to Boston Market) at 215 W. North.

Chef-owner John Bubala of Thyme restaurant recently closed Sinibar, the adjacent bar and lounge. The space is now available for private parties only.

Chief O'Neill's Pub, an Irish bar serving Irish-American food ranging from corned beef and cabbage to salmon fillet, opened quietly in December at 3471 N. Elston. Their grand opening--a weekend of traditional Irish music--is scheduled for March 3 through 5.

There's paper on the windows at Illinois and Dearborn where Fog City Diner closed February 15.

--Laura Levy Shatkin

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.

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