Volo Restaurant Wine Bar
2008 W. Roscoe
Jon Young, the chef and owner of Kitsch'n on Roscoe, has jumped onto the small-plate bandwagon with Volo Restaurant Wine Bar. Talented executive chef Stephen Dunne (Spago, MK) executes a limited, constantly changing menu of seasonal dishes. Sweet, plump mussels were steamed in white wine and butter and flecked with parsley. Long shards of sesame flatbread poked out of three quenelles of steak tartare served with crunchy radish sprouts. Two sea scallops were sliced and fanned across a silky cauliflower puree, then topped with a sunny-side up quail egg, American sturgeon caviar, fresh arugula, and wisps of fried leek. Sliced rare beef came with haricots verts, skinny fried potato sticks, and shaved fennel tossed in lemon juice and olive oil. There's an artisanal cheese plate offered every night--it changes frequently but might include French favorites like Epoisses, Valencay, and Sainte-Maure or domestic selections like Humbolt Fog and Point Reyes blue. Wine from an impressive global list comes by the glass, the carafe (a little over two glasses), the bottle, or the flight. The room is interesting: a row of doors is hung above the banquettes, and two tables are positioned in nooks by the front windows; the spot lighting is a little harsh, though.
50 E. Grand
The popular South Loop sushi restaurant Oysy has opened a new location in River North. As at the original, the maki here are artful--tightly rolled and filled with fantastically fresh ingredients. The nigiri list changes daily and is reasonably priced--$4-$8 gets you two pieces of fish. Cold dishes include a seaweed and cucumber salad, grilled eggplant, asparagus, a mushroom and spinach salad tossed in lemon dressing, and a tender chilled octopus salad dressed with lime juice. Lunchgoers get the best deal--$12 bento boxes contain your choice of fish, teriyaki chicken, or steak plus tempura shrimp, Japanese salad (tossed baby greens and shredded carrots in a ginger vinaigrette), fried tofu cake, and slices of maki. The room is quiet and pretty, done up in shades of pistachio and tangerine, with exposed ductwork and giant cement beams that double as service stations. A flat-panel screen suspended above the bar shows clips from Japanese cooking programs.
449 N. Dearborn
At Ballo, owner Alex Dana and chef Joe Farina, both from Rosebud, bring their bold Italian food to River North. The restaurant's name was changed from Fiore Mio, which means "my flower" in Italian, to Ballo ("dance") within a week of the opening because customers couldn't pronounce the first name. The current one is more appropriate: with its high-decibel music and an overhead disco ball splashing dizzying light all over the place, Ballo feels more like a nightclub than a restaurant. But if you can stand all that distraction, the food is good. An antipasto bar near the entrance is stocked with grilled vegetables, cured meats, and cheeses along with daily specials like grilled peaches with truffled honey or bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with goat cheese. Highlights from the menu include west coast mussels in a spicy tomato sauce (a $12 appetizer that can easily feed four) and the crispy, fresh Frizelle Salad, tossed tableside, with wild arugula, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, and bread cubes. The pan-seared halibut with oyster and brown mushrooms and sauteed escarole struck a nice balance of meaty and fresh, and the huge bowl of linguine vongole, with toothsome wide noodles tossed in garlicky white-wine butter with dozens of plump baby clams, was extremely satisfying. The by-the-glass wine list is mostly domestic and mostly boring, but there are lots of interesting Italian reds and whites available by the bottle, many priced under $50. The servers have to practically yell to be heard, but they're cheerful and attentive.
Other Recent Openings
Alinea, 1723 N. Halsted, 312-867-0110. The long-awaited sci-fi dining emporium from Grant Achatz of Trio.
Andaman West, 2901 Central, Evanston, 847-328-5477. Family-run Thai and Japanese restaurant in the former Daruma space.
Cleary's on Clark, 3438 N. Clark, 773-244-1166. Eclectic Irish fare in Wrigleyville.
Mangia Roma, 1623 N. Halsted, 312-475-9801. Cute pizzeria and Roman restaurant featuring panini, pasta dishes, and specialties like polpettone alla Romana (giant meatballs stuffed with prosciutto, mozzarella, garlic, and spices).
Plaka, 2616 N. Clark, 773-248-0250. Greek dining room in Lincoln Park.
Porter's Steakhouse, 71 E. Wacker, 312-346-3873. In the former Fuse space in Hotel 71.
Vines on Clark, 3554 N. Clark, 773-327-8572. Wrigleyville American and Italian place specializing in pasta and sandwiches.
Room 12, 1152 S. Wabash.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/A. Jackson.