Blue Water Grill
520 N. Dearborn
Even when it's filled to capacity, the humongous 320-seat BLUE WATER GRILL doesn't feel crowded. Opened in late March in Spago's old space by out-of-towners B.R. Guest Restaurants (they own numerous seafood restaurants in New York, including the original Blue Water Grill, as well as assorted eateries and hotels all over the country), the place is gorgeous, with orange mirrors on one wall, abstract acrylic fish on another, and a spiral staircase that leads up to a jazz bar. Executive chef Dirk Flanigan (formerly of Meritage) likes to layer palate-pleasing flavors: his quickly seared halibut T-bone comes with tender asparagus wontons and sweet tomatoes; his plump, perfectly browned Maine sea scallops are served with finely diced vegetables and a rich foie gras sauce over a slice of creamy semolina cake. The highlight of the raw-bar menu is an enormous three-tiered platter of chilled, raw, and steamed crab, lobster, oysters, and mussels. The entree list, heavy on steaks and chops, includes a Colorado rack of lamb with Swiss chard, hazelnut sweet potatoes, and horseradish jus and a dry-aged New York strip with smoked-cheddar potato gratin. Former Blackbird pastry chef Ellisa Narow uses lots of fruit in desserts like a macadamia tart with rum ice cream and cooked golden pineapple, and a refreshing wildflower-honey semifreddo with pieces of rhubarb and apple and a honey crisp. Sommelier Laura Maniec offers a diverse by-the-glass wine list that includes esoteric gems like a 2001 Touriga Nacional red blend from Portugal ($8 for six ounces, $11 for nine) and a 2003 Moschofilero white blend from Greece ($7, $10). The extensive half- and full-bottle list travels from New Zealand to New Mexico with lots of stops along the way. There's also a list of sakes and specialty cocktails like the Chicago Smash (Pisco, passion fruit juice, and Kaffir lime leaves), the Fizzle (ginger-infused Bacardi, maple syrup, grapefruit juice, and a twist of lime), and the Dolce Vita (Knob Creek, sweet vermouth, and amaretto). The only flaw is that the room, with all its hard surfaces, can sound more crowded than it feels.
Sizzle on Broadway
6157 N. Broadway
Michael Conover bought the Pumping Co. in Edgewater last spring, and for a while it remained a neighborhood bar--no food, just drinks. But in November Conover gutted the place and built a kitchen for his new chef, Clarence Sutton, to work in. Now called SIZZLE ON BROADWAY, the restaurant is an example of that new commonplace, the laid-back watering hole with classed-up bar food. Nothing here is very original, but nothing's bad either: Chicken wings are served at lunch only, with your choice of buffalo, barbecue, peanut, or spicy Thai sauce; burgers are topped with chorizo, jalapenos, and poblanos or apricot mustard, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. The dinner menu offers burritos, fajitas, generous salads tossed in homemade oregano vinaigrette or cranberry dressing, and a grazing section of cheap smaller dishes: the steamed mussels in a spicy tomato-oregano broth and the chilled baby lobster tails in a tangy citrus vinaigrette are $7 apiece; pastas (with your choice of the usual sauces) cost $8. A recently added Sunday brunch offers fancy stuff like duck-confit hash and a light version of eggs Benedict with tomato coulis instead of hollandaise, as well as a host of more basic items like chocolate-chip French toast, three-cheese omelets, and banana pancakes. The staff is extremely friendly.
Uno di Martino
2122 W. Lawrence
Brothers Martino and Geronimo Ontiveros, both 14-year veterans of Mia Francesca, cook tasty and affordable Italian standards at their first independent venture, UNO DI MARTINO in Lincoln Square. Many of the entrees are filling and comfortingly familiar: mushroom risotto, potato gnocchi in creamy vodka sauce, chicken in Parmesan-spinach cream sauce with grilled portobellos. The showier dishes are good too: the fettuccine San Remo has thick noodles tossed with sauteed lobster tails and shrimp in a light, spicy tomato sauce, and a vitello con prosciutto special combined garlicky roasted veal medallions, roasted plum tomatoes, and prosciutto. Lighter options include bruschetta topped with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. Everything I had was a little too salty, but this place is still a great value: most of the entrees are under $15. Uno di Martino is BYO; a nice Chianti or Barbaresco would go well with much of the menu.
Other Recent Openings
OYSY, 50 E. Grand, 312-670-6750. River North location of the popular South Loop Japanese restaurant.
PHIL & LOU'S, 1124 W. Madison, 312-455-0070. Reopened a couple blocks west of its former location.
PLAKA, 2616 N. Clark, 773-248-0250. Greek dining room in Lincoln Park.
VOLO RESTAURANT WINE BAR, 2008 W. Roscoe, 773-348-4600. Tapas-style American food from the owners of Kitsch'n.
BABALUCI, 2152 N. Damen; BD'S MONGOLIAN BARBEQUE, 3330 N. Clark; CAFE NOSH, 2665 N. Clark; PILI PILI, 230 W. Kinzie; PLUTON, 873 N. Orleans; SAIKO, 1307 S. Wabash; STEVIE B'S, 1953 N. Clybourn; VITO & KESSELMAN, 1617 N. Wells.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/A. Jackson.