When husband and wife Daniel Kelch and Laura Van Dorf launched LULU'S DIM SUM & THEN SOME in 1992 they were ahead of their time, serving an Americanized version of Asian cuisine--bigger flavors, bigger portions--that's since become ubiquitous. A decade later they're picking up steam rather than losing it, as evidenced by their move a few months ago to a larger space. Just down Davis Street from its old location, the new Lulu's is twice the size, located in a street-level storefront in one of Evanston's newly constructed condo buildings. Besides square footage, the restaurant has also gained a full liquor license (as opposed to one restricted to beer and wine); along with house martinis and several specialty cocktails, fresh-fruit smoothies have been added to the menu. Kelch's cuisine is still offered in both small plates (spring rolls, cold spicy sesame noodles, pot stickers, shrimp dumplings) and large ones (teriyaki steak salad, almond duck tenders). Multiple vegetarian options include stir-fried udon noodles, bi bim bop, and a crispy tofu salad with ginger dressing. You'll also see more seafood and fish specials (something Kelch has been wanting to move into), presented more elaborately than the regular menu items. Prices have gone up modestly but are still a bargain, with regular entrees topping out at $8.25 and specials at $12.95. Lulu's still doesn't take reservations, and it still has lines running out the door. It's at 804 Davis, Evanston, 847-869-4343.
The reasonably priced Italian fare at Andersonville's long-standing CALO PIZZERIA RESTAURANT still attracts a regular neighborhood crowd, and the room seems frozen in time with its red vinyl booths, acoustic-tile ceilings, and floral wall-to-wall carpeting. But there's a brand-new opening through the back wall leading into Finestra di Calo, formerly a freestanding restaurant with a different chef and a more contemporary menu. Both rooms had the same owner, Victor Recchia, all along. Now they share a menu and a waitstaff as well, though Finestra's decor is oddly unchanged: the hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, vintage posters, and red velvet drapes remain, as do the French doors that open onto sidewalk seating. The huge menu features an assortment of expected standbys: bruschetta, calamari, Caesar salad, pizza, and a range of pasta dishes. More froufrou daily specials, like the grilled octopus on a bed of frilly greens, hark back to Finestra's previous chef. There's a small wine list featuring only a few Italian selections and many lower-end California bottles. Calo is at 5343 N. Clark, 773-271-7725.
At stylish hotel dining room CALITERRA, the toque has been passed from John Coletta to Rick Gresh, formerly of Green Dolphin Street, who's doing his own interpretation of Cal-Ital cuisine. Where Coletta simply showcased his exquisite talent with seasonal ingredients in updated Italian dishes (which he continues to do for the Carlucci group in Rosemont), Gresh is mixing things up more, globalizing the menu with fussier combinations. Some work, others miss the mark. His fresh wild arugula and shaved fennel salad with a featherlight goat cheese fondue was a winner, while his espresso-crusted diver scallops with a white chocolate emulsion had muddied, combative flavors. An ahi tuna amuse came topped with coconut cream, avocado, and a Kumamoto oyster, another culinary stretch. Entrees were more successful, though each had one ingredient too many: a dry-rubbed venison loin came with a savory winter caponata and a fig-infused balsamic vinaigrette; ricotta cheese tortellini were served in a root vegetable puree with foie gras. Gresh's menu will change seasonally, so he may grow into his style. Caliterra is at 633 N. Saint Clair, 312-274-4444.
Former One Sixty Blue chef de cuisine Chris Quintile has taken over the kitchen at WE, the in-house restaurant at the W Hotel City Center. The fare has moved from contemporary American to elegant but accessible Italian, and later this spring the name will change as well, though at press time the hotel wasn't revealing what it'll be. Tucked off to the side of the lobby, this gem isn't readily visible from the street, but its new chef is sure to garner attention. Quintile uses pristine ingredients in simple preparations to come up with knockout dishes like a plum tomato tartlet, heightened with a sherry vinaigrette and creamy goat cheese, and a baby arugula and Gorgonzola salad with port-infused figs. Despite its refinement, there's nothing fussy about the food; it's irresistible. Case in point: the tender gnocchi in brown butter with prosciutto and grilled asparagus. In the seafood department are specials like pan-seared halibut on creamy whipped potatoes with yellow and red teardrop tomatoes, asparagus, and an olive tapenade. The all-Italian wine list is still in the works. We is at 172 W. Adams, 312-332-1200.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yvette Marie Dostatni.