Bin 36 Alums in Lincoln Square, (Too) Sweet Southwestern, and Fresh Pierogi | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

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Bin 36 Alums in Lincoln Square, (Too) Sweet Southwestern, and Fresh Pierogi

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Fiddlehead Cafe

4600 N. Lincoln

773-751-1500

You can't say Fiddlehead Cafe doesn't do its darndest to please. This casual, warm, wine-centric cafe from two Bin 36 alums opened last month in the corner storefront formerly occupied by Square Kitchen. The name, after the fern, is meant to reflect both the restaurant's commitment to a seasonal menu and its proximity to the Old Town School of Folk Music, just up the street. Under chef Robert Leavitt (Del Toro, North Pond) the kitchen offers a range of "global" appetizers (grilled flatbread, seared scallops, garlic sausage with cornichons) and spiffed-up bistro standards like the signature three-way steak frites: marinated skirt steak served with russet, sweet potato, and polenta fries. A pork shank entree was one monster hunk of fork-tender meat, served over bacon-braised lentils with a chunky pear mostarda, an Italian condiment made from mustard powder and candied fruit. Unfortunately, while both it and a guinea hen special (a cabbage roll of braised leg meat, cranberries, and chestnuts with a roasted breast-and-wing combo) looked and smelled great, they tasted oddly bland, as if underseasoned. The wine list suffers from a different problem: with a dozen reds and a dozen whites and bubblies all available by the glass or in flights of three, it's hard to go wrong. But to get to a knockout like a 2004 cab-merlot-Syrah blend from Washington State's Hedges winery, you have to first figure out how to interpret the overly cutesy little icons that indicate traits like "dry", "complex," "berries," or "oaky." Still, to a person the staff at a recent visit was unflaggingly friendly, down to the chorus of "thanks for coming!" as we slipped out into the night. A few days later I even got an e-mail: during dinner I'd asked an idle question about the excellent French cheese flight, and the waiter who'd taken down my (nonidentifying, non-Reader) address actually kept his promise to find the answer. --Martha Bayne

Taos

2114 W. Roscoe

773-248-6899

Sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover--or a restaurant by its menu. At Taos it's sprinkled with the sort of meaningless language and superficial gimmickry that warns of inauthenticity or sloppiness. Did anyone consult a dictionary before choosing the word "placidness" to describe the inherent character of corn? My friends and I saddled up with a round of "Patron Silver Martinis," though we were certain these were nothing more than margaritas, even before we were asked if we wanted salt on the rim. We scanned the page for dishes that weren't Flayed with some sort of sweet-and-sour element, but saw only candied pecans in "Mixed Autumn Leaves," black cherry chimichurri and scallops, and bourbon-spiked mixed berry sauce on pork tenderloin. We needed something placid, so we gambled on Roasted Corn and Poblano Chowder, a bowl of toothy kernels floating in a "tomato broth" so thick and sweet you could have poured it over ice cream. Grilled pork skewers were a study in dehydration, bits of arid meat glazed in a guava adobo and mounted on stakes in a pile of rice and beans. Grilled mahimahi with coconut mole was nice on the inside if dry around the edges, but one could barely tell with it overpowered by molasses-garlic roasted squash and charred pineapple-avocado relish. About the only thing that didn't go off the glycemic index was a Burrito Grande Platter, a giant lettuce-packed tortilla with fewer pieces of skirt steak than the redundant soft taco squashed beneath it. A butterscotch, marshmallow, chocolate, and pecan "adobe brick" dessert may have been the most savory dish of the night. --Mike Sula

The Pierogi Factory

1034 W. Belmont

773-325-1015 "Reach for happiness!" the inspirational label on my bottle of Polish apple-cherry juice instructed. I reached for my plate of fried sauerkraut-and-mushroom pierogi instead. Same thing, as it turned out. The dozen or so pierogi varieties at The Pierogi Factory--cabbage, potato-cheddar, and spinach among them--are available fried or boiled, but any caloric difference drowns under the topping of fried onions, bacon, and sour cream. Marginally less heavy menu items include cheese or meat pyzy (potato dumplings), grilled Polish sausages, and potato pancakes. White borscht with potato, onions, and sausage appears as a special now and then; the always-available red borscht takes the form of a thin, hot beet broth with stained-pink ravioli floating in it. For dessert the cherry pierogi, topped with powdered sugar, are filled not with the oozy-sweet cherry pie filling I expected but with pleasantly sour whole cherries. Plastic forks and knives, wax-paper-lined trays, and counter service produce a fast-food atmosphere, but the pierogi are fresh and the service is downright jovial. This is the first location of a projected chain. --Anne Ford

OTHER RECENT OPENINGS

Bank St. Bistro & Bakery, 1967 N. Halsted, 312-475-9618

Kansaku, 1514 Sherman, Evanston, 847-864-4386

Yolk, 1120 S. Michigan, 312-789-9655

ZK food, 1633 N. Milwaukee, 773-278-9600

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Rob Warner.

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