Show: Happy Birthday "They sound something like Dinosaur Jr would have if Lou Barlow had kicked J Mascis out, rather than the other way around—fuzzed-out bubble-pop. The music will feel familiar to anyone who heard the popular indie-rock bands of the early 90s, though the trio have close contemporaries in the prettified garage-band sound of Girls," writes Jessica Hopper.
Dinner: Vines on Clark Italian and American food from chefs Tim Edstrom (Everest, Kiki's Bistro, Spiaggia) and Raul Ramos (Spiaggia, Pump Room).
3554 N. Clark St., 773-327-8572, cubbybear.com/vinesonclark
Show: Katatonia These dour Swedes, from a land of long winter nights and cradle-to-grave health care, play a romantic flavor of gothic metal in the tradition of their English contemporaries My Dying Bride, though they call it simply "dark rock."
Dinner: Ken-Kee Restaurant It would take months to work through the menus, but if seafood is a good benchmark to measure a busy kitchen’s standards, Ken-Kee's are high: the fried smelt special, battered and dressed with chiles, was unbelievably fresh.
2129 S. China Pl., 312-326-2088, kenkee.com
Show: Ryan Cohen Quintet One of the city's most reliable mainstream jazz pianists, Ryan Cohan has built a discography that consists mostly of thoughtfully arranged suites—sprawling works that often call for large casts of collaborators and multiple lineup permutations.
Dinner: Thai Avenue Some of the folks who run Thai Avenue are from Issan, in northeast Thailand, which has its own distinctive cooking style. Issan sausage, made with funky fermented rice marvelously complemented with raw garlic, ginger, and cilantro, is a taste you acquire about two bites after the initial smack in the head. Pork neck strips are rich, chewy strands of meat quite succulent with the savory sauce; "waterfall" beef is grilled strips marinated in lime, fish sauce, and chiles—a very accessible dish.
4949 N. Broadway, 773-878-2222
Show: The Town Ben Affleck's feature directing debut, Gone Baby Gone (2007), achieved a tragic depth unusual for a crime film because the child at its center, though rescued from kidnappers, was ultimately deposited back into a hopeless cycle of poverty and domestic abuse. This second feature doesn’t resonate with nearly as much power, but its suspenseful story of two generations of career criminals in the city’s northerly Charlestown neighborhood has a similarly haunting quality.
Dinner: Niu Japanese Fusion Lounge Living up to the pun, Niu Japanese Fusion Lounge rolls out a new wave of innovative preparations that blend traditions and build on not typically Asian ingredients such as cilantro, avocado, and spicy mayo. Niu also serves up very fresh-tasting raw stuff in generous bowls of chirashi and nigiri available by the piece.
332 E. Illinois St., 312-527-2888, niusushi.com
Show: Ghost Bird The ivory-billed woodpecker was thought to be extinct since the 1920s, so when sightings of the bird were reported in eastern Arkansas in 2004 and verified by the ornithology lab at Cornell University, environmentalists responded with something approaching ecstasy. As writer-director-editor Scott Crocker establishes in this engrossing documentary, the sightings didn't really add up, but academic naysayers have been no match for people's deep-seated need to believe the "King of the Woodpeckers" still lives.
Dinner: Sayat Nova Cavelike Armenian restaurant that draws adventurous diners for interesting low-budget fare.
157 E. Ohio St., 312-644-9159, sayatnovachicago.com
Show: Neil Hamburger It's a comment on how irrevocably choadish the neighborhood has become that so many attending the Do Division Street Fest this past June seemed to have no appreciation for America's Funnyman, Neil Hamburger.
Dinner: 90 Miles Cuban Cafe Given their efforts to offer pressed sandwiches for all tastes—tofu (gasp!), a vegetable version, and grilled cheese are available—the Gonzalezes aren’t likely to silence purists’ debates over the nuances of the iconic pressed ham, cheese, and roast pork cubano or medianoche (the same ingredients, on sweet bread). But AlbertoGonzales—whose family ran a pre-Castro catering business before hopping the Mariel boat lift—knows the fundamentals.
3101 N. Clybourn Ave., 773-248-2822, 90milescubancafe.com
Show: The Sound of a Yellow Flower The off-Loop theater scene regularly spits out marvels, so it should surprise no one that two-year-old StrangeLoop Theatre has mounted a thoughtfully directed, efficiently designed, and convincingly acted production on a shoestring. What's mind-blowing is that Dustin Spence's politically sophisticated, psychologically intricate play is his first.
Dinner: Bucktown Soup Cafe "Owner Dino Agudo, who's usually behind the counter, will offer suggestions and cheerfully let you taste as many kinds as you want," writes Julia Thiel. "All the ones I tried—including a crab and sweet corn bisque, tomato with cheese, vegetable, and "jumbolaya" (a spicy cross between gumbo and jambalaya loaded with mussels, shrimp, sausage, chicken, and okra)—were excellent."
1840 N. Damen Ave., 773-904-8364, bucktownsoupcafe.com
Show: William Gibson reads from his latest novel, Zero History.
7 pm, Borders, 830 N. Michigan Ave., 312-573-0564
Dinner: Balsan "Chef Jason McLeod has spent most of his career in hotel dining, but his chef de cuisine, Danny Grant, spent a good bit of his at North Pond, and a good deal of what’s happening at Balsan reflects that restaurant’s familiar emphasis on the seasonal and the house-made," writes Mike Sula.
11 E. Walton St., 312-646-1400
Show: Spelling Bee for Adults Hosted by author Stacey Ballis (Good Enough to Eat); "celebrity judges" are Chicago Tribune literary editor Elizabeth Taylor, Lindsay Hunter (Daddy's), and Robbie Q. Telfer.
Dinner: Spoon Thai It's not like there's been a revolution against boring Thai food in Chicago, but there's certainly a healthy resistance, and it was born in Chai and Vanna Gumtrontip's little Lincoln Square restaurant. Spoon was the first place in the city willing to serve authentic, fully flavored Thai food to non-Thais. It began in the summer of '03 with the discovery of the Thai-language "secret menu" by a handful of obsessive chowhounds, who had it translated and began plumbing the depths of its aggressive, brilliantly seasoned dishes.
4608 N. Western Ave., 773-769-1173
Show: 33 1/3 Book Series With Joe Bonomo (AC/DC's Highway to Hell), Mark Richardson (Flaming Lips' Zaireeka), and Scott Plagenhoef (Belle and Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister).
Dinner: Chikurin Sushi & Asian Cuisine "You might think Chikurin Sushi & Asian Cuisine sounds like just another ho-hum pan-Asian restaurant, but this sleek Bucktown newcomer has some surprises in store. Piquant ma po tofu was as good as most versions I've had in Chinatown, and Mongolian beef made with very tender meat surpassed many," writes Anne Spiselman.
1811 W. North Ave., Ste. 103, 773-252-8880