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Omnivorous: A Home on Devon for Hema's, "Comfortable Food" in Lincoln Square, and Deleece's New Sibling

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For years Hema's Kitchen, Hema Potla's homey Indian restaurant, drew flocks of fans to a tiny, cramped storefront where food was often hustled out of the kitchen by the beaming proprietor herself. But after rave reviews on Check, Please! transformed the crowd to a mob, she expanded, first with an adjacent dining room and then with a second location in Lincoln Park. Now the original spot is shuttered and she's gone upscale, around the corner, in full Devon Avenue style. Gone are the open kitchen and the corner playpen that once housed a small child or two. Instead tables in a spacious, gleaming dining room are loaded with wineglasses and white tablecloths, plastic flowers and laminated numbers. (That last may account for service that's stunningly better than the old Hema's glacial norm.) I'd be lying if I said the new space has the raw charm of the old, but the food is as solid and satisfying as ever. Flaky lamb samosas were lightly seasoned and piping hot, though lacking the peas alluded to on the menu. Veggie dishes like aloo baigan matar—eggplant, potatoes, and peas in a tomato-coconut sauce heavily stocked with aromatic curry leaves—imparted a powerful burn, and chicken vindaloo, while heavy on the ghee, evinced an equally bold hand with the red chiles and curry leaves. The happy addition of a tandoor oven means the kitchen now turns out tender tandoori chicken and chewy naan as well. Bear in mind that it's still BYOB (no corkage fee) and the closest liquor store has a selection best described as bottom-shelf. —Martha Bayne

The awning outside Chelsea Grill, formerly Erba—and sister to Jack Rabbit, formerly Brioso—says "comfortable food," which judging by the one-page menu is code for upscale comfort food. No matter: I'd be happy to have this little storefront in my neighborhood. The new look is a study in woods, with mahogany-toned wainscoting and beams, dark frames on chairs with light seats that match the tables, and a medium finish on the floor. The 70s soundtrack ranges from David Bowie to Stevie Wonder. When I asked the considerate waitress if the photos of a little girl on the wall were of Chelsea, she replied "Sure," though other sources indicate the place is named for a family pet—and has nothing to do with New York. The highlight of my meal was the thick butternut squash soup with a trio of succulent chipotle shrimp that gave it an inspired spicy kick. If only there were bread service here—I'd like to have sopped up every last drop. Roasted beet salad, the sliced red beets arranged with mesclun and a disk of warmed bread-crumb-coated goat cheese, was pleasant enough, though the promised spiced walnuts were nowhere to be found. Of the 17 entrees ($7.95-$18.95), rich short-rib pot roast on a bed of first-rate horseradish mashed potatoes finished with a few carrot and parsnip sticks made an ideal winter dinner. The moist and tasty Chartwell Farm double-cut pork chop, cooked to medium as the server said it would be, came with a nice apple-potato-bacon hash and sauteed baby spinach. A couple of burgers, spaghetti and meatballs, macaroni and cheeses, and free-range turkey meat loaf are among the other options. "Mom's bread pudding" and "Dad's apple pie" head the dessert list, but given the spongey-sweet pudding and clunky pie crust, I'd say the folks need a refresher baking course. The full bar offers boutique beers in the bottle, wines by the glass, and cocktails—all the usuals.—Anne Spiselman

Barely six months passed between the splashy debut of Shochu, an Asian-inspired small-plates spot showcasing the eponymous liquor, and its hasty redo in October as Deleece Grill Pub, the meat-focused sibling of John Handler and Lynne Wallack's Deleece. But on my slow weeknight visit, the hybrid lounge-restaurant had a whiff of mortality about it as well. The decor is a hodgepodge, with Wallack's Chicago photos on exposed-brick walls, funky brown broken-tile floors, modern white plastic chairs, and black-stained wood tables plus a couch and odd-looking fireplace up front and a sit-down bar opposite the banquette in back. Classic rock and blues play in the background, while the flat screen over the bar silently screens movies. The affordable upscale comfort-food menu is of the sort that's rapidly becoming a cliche, though welcome features include four variations on mac 'n' cheese, separate cheese and whiskey lists, and a decent selection of beers (but only two on tap). In addition, most entrees ($11-$25) come with two sides. Of the five steaks, the ten-ounce Tokyo sirloin, ordered rare, arrived extra rare and lukewarm, but the slivered shiitakes and scallions in a minimalist teriyaki sauce complemented the slightly chewy beef. A braised Berkshire pork shank, though flavorful, was surprisingly dry, and the "fried apples" resembled a sweet compote. Best of our sides was the Gruyere and butternut squash mac cannily topped with fried shallots. The worst? A tie between bland mashed potatoes and miso-lychee slaw overwhelmed by onions. For appetizers, tender and crispy fried calamari with miso aioli and sauteed shrimp coated with sweet-spicy orange-jalapeño sauce recalled Shochu's sophistication. Warm house-made potato chips were a fun free starter. On the other hand, a soggy oatmeal-chocolate chip ice cream sandwich cookie with thin hot fudge left a bad taste in my mouth. —Anne Spiselman

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