Cotes du Rhone Bistro
5424 N. Broadway
Dinner at Cotes du Rhone, the new Edgewater bistro from former Cafe Bernard chef Brian Moulton, shot out of the gate with a trio of smartly executed classic French starters: piping hot, garlicky escargots; a complex, satiny duck liver pate; and plump mussels in an addictive garlic-white wine broth that should give the mollusks over at the Hopleaf a run for their money. Even the soft, crusty bread was a hit. Given the strong start it was surprising that things flagged at the entrees. The menu includes bistro standards like cassoulet, duck confit, and a nice, juicy roast chicken, but three of my group of four opted for specials. And while the beef tenderloin in green peppercorn sauce was tender, rare perfection, the veal flank smothered in black truffle mushrooms was overcooked (though the mushrooms were pretty tasty) and my rabbit loin stuffed with goat cheese and red peppers was a rich, complicated mess. All were weighed down by plateloads of identical sides: a heap of garlic mashed potatoes, two spears of asparagus, a knot of sauteed greens, another heap of roasted root veggies. No one could complain of going hungry, but the formulaic approach left us a bit disappointed. Cotes du Rhone is undeniably a nice addition to the miscellany of this strip of Broadway. The two candlelit rooms are quiet and almost gothy, the service was friendly if scattered, and it's BYOB for the time being. But is it perverse to hope for both consistency and variety? --Martha Bayne
Nhu Lan Bakery
2612 W. Lawrence
Banh mi, the miraculous French-inspired Vietnamese sub, has an assured place in the Sandwich Hall of Fame as a classic example of cross-cultural pollination. Cheap, fresh, and filling, it's something that should be available on every corner. Nhu Lan Bakery, a new Vietnamese bakery in Lincoln Square, is a pioneer, striking out relatively far from Argyle Street. It's a risky business plan, but a treasure for the neighborhood (if only more Pakistani joints would venture away from cabbie corridors). Demi- baguettes are baked fresh daily to cradle nine different fillings (only five were available on my last visit), typically accented by pickled, julienned carrot and daikon, cucumbers, mayo, cilantro, and thinly sliced jalapenos and dressed with spicy-sweet nuoc cham, a potent fish sauce. Among my favorites is the "special," a meat-lover's sub with a schmear of rich pate, headcheese, ham, and a fried pork sausage called cha hue. The ham banh mi is piled with jambon and a generous wipe of pate, a simpler version that highlights the textural contrast between the two. There's also a meatball filling, sweet and messy like a sloppy joe, a lemony shredded chicken, grilled pork, and an all-vegetable variety filled with undressed breaded, fried, dry vegetable matter; the only one I can't recommend, it's exactly the sort of thing that gives vegetarian diets a bad name. These superb sandwiches run a mere $2 to $2.50; buy five and you get one free. There's also a large selection of Vietnamese snacks for takeaway: spring rolls, yellow house-made mayo, Western pastries, and a rotating variety of sweet rice and pudding desserts in challenging flavors--corn, mung bean, sweet potato, sausage. You can take away vacuum-sealed sausage, pate, ham, and headcheese too. --Mike Sula
1346 W. Devon
For years Pasteur has been a favorite for classy, upscale Vietnamese that avoids the ridiculous excesses of Asian fusion. Viet Bistro, chef-owner Daniel Nguyen's follow-up, has been a long time in development, and if the delay has generated anticipation among fans of Pasteur, I'm afraid they'll be stifling their surprise over their spring rolls and satay. What were they doing behind the papered windows all those months? The casual, loungey vibe--all candlelight, suede sofas, and smoove jazz--must have drained time and energy from menu planning. Tired appetizers of vegetable tempura and beef skewers and boring curries and stir-fries predominate, less imaginative and more prissy than those at a half-dozen spots on Argyle Street. Even the more unusual items lacked excitement: a papaya salad with jellyfish, something that's usually searingly hot, here was practically unseasoned and required a healthy dollop of chile sauce to bring it to life. Tem, a sweet grilled chicken and pork meatball lollipopped on a stalk of lemongrass, was pretty but sort of pointless. The house was out of the interesting-sounding lobster roll, and we were steered toward spring rolls indistinguishable from any I've ever had before but for their $5 price tag. Spicy shrimp curry was thin and watery; a red snapper was overfried; bo lui, beef cubes marinated in pinot noir and soy sauce, was nothing more than shish kebab by another name; and chocolate layer cake had a stale whiff of the freezer about it, not the only indication that someone's phon-ing it in here. The liquor license is still pending. --Mike Sula
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For more on restaurants, see our blog The Food Chain at chicagoreader.com.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/ Rob Warner.