4712 N. Broadway
This new late-night sushi spot in Uptown is a psychedelic fun house of aquatic-themed design. Bulbous columns rise from the floor like giant sea anemones; a video wash turns one wall into a prismatic waterfall; a wide flat-screen monitor embedded in the wall-size wine rack separating the bar from the dining areas screens an endless loop of aquarium porn. The brainchild of designer Jay Paik and executive chef Soon Park, Agami, located in the south tail of the rehabbed Goldblatt's building at Broadway and Lawrence, is clearly poised to tap into the neighborhood's booming nightlife scene--the sushi bar serves until 1 or 2 on weekends, midnight during the week. It's the kind of place that normally terrifies me, but the food is pretty amazing. Under Park, who trained with Seijero Matsumoto at Kamehachi and put in time at Sushi Wabi, the extensive menu includes novelty items like the "spicy tuna rice crispy"--tidy rectangles of crisp buttered rice topped with spicy tuna tartare and a thin slice of jalapeno. The ginger chicken roll appetizer, a hefty battered-and-fried cylinder of white chicken, asparagus, and bell peppers in a sweetly smoky ginger teriyaki sauce, was practically an entree in itself, but the starters are doomed to play second fiddle to the sushi bar. A plate of sashimi was beautifully presented, with thin, firm, shockingly fresh slices of tuna, salmon, shrimp, octopus, and--my pet among the fishier fishes--mackerel, all grouped around a delicate rosette of fluke dusted with red tobiko. That old standby, the rainbow roll, was superb: tuna, salmon, and buttery yellowtail wrapped around rice and a core of spicy tuna. The list of signature makis is a little overwhelming--Park's concoctions seem as though they'd cram more tastes into one rice-rolled bite than one could possibly appreciate. But the Green Turtle maki we tried was a dense, sweet, rich construction of grilled eel, avocado, and tempura crunch topped with wasabi tobiko and shrimp. Arranged in a circle and outfitted with a smiling turtle's head of wasabi paste--complete with octopus-tentacle eyes--and a tail of caramelized eel, it was also adorable. Agami can be pricey; at least it's BYO for now. --Martha Bayne
2030 S. Wabash
Open just over a month, this sophisticated spot on the near south side is already drawing raves from Raters for its nuevo Latino comfort food. Handsome banquettes line the walls in the main room; a row of windows in a side dining area offers a display of autumn color that's especially stunning against the bold blue wall. Appetizers (seafood cocktail, empanadas, tamales) looked so tempting it was hard to make our choices, but the vegetarian ceviche was a good pick: crunchy hearts of palm, mushrooms, asparagus, avocado, and pico de gallo in a bright-tasting citrus dressing. Flautas de barbacoa were also mighty tasty, corn cigars stuffed with savory slow-roasted beef and served with deeply flavored red salsa. But the standout of the evening had to be the moqueca do mar, a seafood stew with a kick-ass tomato-coconut milk broth perfumed with saffron and served with a little silver dish of rice and a few tostones. Other main dishes include beer-braised beef short ribs, three more seafood preparations, an appealing-sounding chile relleno stuffed with eggplant caviar and blue cheese, and a double pork chop, bone in and more like a triple--it was one gigantic hunk o' meat. After that it may be hard to believe we ordered dessert. But we did: couldn't say no to the Oaxacan chocolate mousse cake with sweet corn ice cream. CUATRO is BYO for several more weeks; take advantage of this to bring, as one Rater suggests, a Spanish red or a Malbec-based South American wine. --Kate Schmidt
3424 W. Irving Park
Dragan Simic and his nephew Milos Milosevic named Fontana, their spiffy new cafe and grill in Irving Park, for the north Belgrade neighborhood where they grew up. For their brethren emigres they stock dry goods from the Balkans behind a display case of sweet and savory pastries with names light on vowels. Another case preserves cheeses, meats, and pates for custom sandwiches made with bread baked on the spot each morning. These include the extremely adaptable lepinja, a puffy, crusty discus of leavened glory that somehow encompasses the best features of pita and English muffins. For the past month I've been exploring the palatable utilities of this bread at home--it's great with everything from tomatoes and olive oil to peanut butter and hot sauce--but none so far has equaled the titanic sandwiches Simic makes. He inserts grilled cevapcici--five fingers of unencased beef and pork sausage--or for the one-piece version a half-pound Serbian burger, between split and toasted buns. There's also a smoked pork tenderloin sandwich, one with pork kebabs wrapped in bacon, and a smoked sausage, a curious but delicious tube steak that would be reminiscent of a Slim Jim if those venerable snax actually tasted of meat. Simic puts a couple of hot specials on the board every day too, like a bowl of stuffed cabbage in sour peppery broth or paprikash, a soupy version with chunks of pork, bacon, and potato. Under a heat lamp there are gargantuan burek as well; available with cheese or meat fillings, they maintain their crispiness after reheating. Simic ran his own restaurant back in Belgrade, but Maria Micanovic, his nephew's girlfriend and the ever present face behind the counter, says establishments so sundry don't really exist back in the Balkans: "This is like a little bit of everything from back home in one place." --Mike Sula
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Joeff Davis.