New Too: Bia for Mia, Fork, Gosu, and five more recently opened restaurants | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

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New Too: Bia for Mia, Fork, Gosu, and five more recently opened restaurants

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New Too

Bia for Mia

1147 W. Grand | 312-226-0312

$$

ITALIAN | LUNCH: MONDAY-SATURDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL MIDNIGHT, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 11 | RESERVATIONS FOR LARGE GROUPS ONLY

It's a ballsy move to open up an Italian place along a stretch of Grand that includes Bari, D'Amato's, La Scarola, and Bella Notte—even if you are Mel Markon, restaurateur de sass circa 1995, and you mitigate the seriousness of the endeavor by calling it an "Italian fun pub." But if the crowds flock—and they do, young and old alike—there's got to be a reason, right? The answer is a mixed bag. There's a solid beer list, potent cocktails, and about 50 wines, almost all of which are $30 and below. The menu pendulums between gimmicky (a "Sardinia sushi," shrimp and basil rolled in prosciutto and served with chopsticks), straightforward (an unpretentious if salty spicy linguine with plum tomatoes and garlic), and successful (a perfectly cooked sea bass). Fresh grilled sardines were too charred and smoky on one visit, but a nearby table was overheard praising them, having come back for seconds in the same week. A spaghetti burger featured toasty strands of pasta atop a thinnish patty and too-large pretzel bun, and a famed—in previous iterations—length-cut fried zucchini had a fortified matzo breading and a creamy tomato-and-mascarpone dipping sauce, but too little salt to bring out the flavor. A spicy pancetta pizza, though, was thin, crunchy, and generously cheesy, and a slightly overcooked pork chop with grilled peaches was crispy and sweet. A shot or two of grappa from the bar may make the best end to a meal. —Izidora Angel

Fork

4600 N. Lincoln | 773-751-1500

$$$

CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL, SMALL PLATES | DINNER: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH | CLOSED MONDAY | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL MIDNIGHT, THURSDAY TILL 11

It's hard to imagine a cozier place than Lincoln Square's Fork (formerly Fiddlehead Cafe), with its warm tones, exposed-brick walls, and soft lighting. Its most notable feature is the extensive beer and wine list; both menus are arranged into flights, with small pours (as well as full-size ones) of several dozen beverages available. You can pick a suggested grouping like "interesting whites" or mix and match, and there are a bunch more options by the bottle. And while the food menu is less encyclopedic—several selections each for snacks, soups and salads, sandwiches and burgers, and small-to-large plates, plus charcuterie and cheese—the execution is solid. Fried onion strings with house-made ketchup were crispy and subtlely oniony, candied bacon wasn't overly sweet, and the grilled hanger steak had a nice crust. Portions are relatively small, so this place may be better for a beer and a snack than a full meal; gnocchi with "foraged mushrooms," while light and fluffy, also worked out to more than a dollar per largeish nubbin. Still, the staff was unfailingly friendly, and when we lingered after paying the bill, our server, rather than giving us the evil eye, brought us complimentary half glasses of sparkling wine. —Julia Thiel

Gosu

2515 N. California | 773-276-7330

$$$

ASIAN, JAPANESE, KOREAN | LUNCH: SATURDAY-SUNDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11 | BYO

It takes confidence to open a sushi joint in the potentially cursed space that once housed the short-lived Rustik and then Rustico Grill. But Kyung Sun Bang, formerly of Andersonville's Hama Matsu, has some things going for her, namely her simple home-style Korean and Japanese dishes, such as greasy-good chapchae (sweet potato noodles stir-fried with beef, carrot, and onion), tonkatsu (crispy deep-fried pork cutlet), or agedashi tofu (lightly batter-fried soybean curd bathing in a dashi soy broth). But I'll be the first to admit that some days you just need to forgo minimalist traditionalism and power down a monkey brain—a panko-breaded deep-fried whole avocado stuffed with tuna and crabmeat. Gosu is also relentlessly hospitable—your server might refer to the chef as "mom" as he plies you with extras such as three varieties of house-made panchan (kimchi, fish cakes, and pickled cucumbers), sesame-dressed iceberg salads, miso soup, perhaps a couple bottles of the lemon-lime soda Ramune for the kids, and a refreshing finish of the cool drink sujeonggwa, made with persimmon, cinnamon, and ginger. That spirit of generosity also applies to the portions, though perhaps to the detriment of some of Bang's fanciful makimono, such the "burning scallop," a spicy tuna roll piled high with glistening shellfish and tobiko, or the "origami," a preparation of many fish wrapped in soybean paper and bathed in a sweet ginger sauce. —Mike Sula

Kai Sushi

1406 W. Grand | 312-733-9083

$$$

ASIAN, JAPANESE | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11 | BYO

Chef Unurbayar Tsendsururen (or John, if you'd rather) brings his experience from Sunda and swanky NoMi to this casual BYO storefront on Grand with walls the color of carrots and cream. It's only a hop and a skip away from Butterfly Sushi, but that's not yet been a deterrent—the place filled up in record time on a recent night. There's a planned menu expansion in the works, but for the moment it's all about appetizers, sushi, and sashimi, and the requisite—for this type of place—specialty rolls. Things started off quite promisingly: a ceviche-like marinated squid salad and a cucumber salad with wakame and rice vinegar were simple and delightful, evoking the minimalist brilliance of Han 202. An off-the-menu order of clean, fresh tuna over spring greens kept the momentum going. But elsewhere, things were uneven (save for the rice, which was impeccable). A salmon-skin maki was completely ordinary; a flaming VIP—brought out literally flaming—combined seared salmon, spicy crab, and bonito flakes, resulting in an overly fishy sensation that overwhelmed the crab; and a lobster roll, its wheels studded with flying roe for an extra burst of flavor, still didn't satisfy. The green turtle roll did: it was by far the tastiest, with fresh salmon melting into the delicate sweetness of a glossy mango, all encased in soft, lime-green soy paper. —Izidora Angel

Kanela Breakfast Club

3231 N. Clark | 773-248-1622

$

contemporary | BREAKFAST, LUNCH: SEVEN DAYS | BYO | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

"This is a Greek-owned restaurant," our server joked. "Like they all are." By that she meant not a sprawling omnibus diner or a rowdy, flaming-cheese-slinging taberna but a quiet brunch spot, monochromatically sterile (relative to the Orange it replaced), featuring a few Greek pastries such as the lemon custard phyllo pocket known as bougatsa and big doughy loukoumades that ought to supplant nearby Ann Sather for cinnamon-breakfast-treat supremacy. Other than those and some vaguely Greek-accented items—a feta omelet packing some chile-pepper heat, a double stack of blueberry French toast topped with fruity jalapeño chutney and tart house-made yogurt, a lamb burger topped with tzatziki, whipped feta, and kalamata olives—you can expect contemporarily indulgent brunch plates like bourbon-caramel-bacon waffles, pork belly Benedicts, and duck confit hash. —Mike Sula

Leader Bar

3000 W. Irving Park | 773-478-2337

$$

BAR/LOUNGE, PIZZA, AMERICAN | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: SATURDAY TILL 3, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 2

The biggest surprise at this sprawling Irving Park sports bar (named after the building it's housed in) are the "flatbreads"—essentially rectangular Chicago-tavern-style pizzas of remarkably decent caliber. The same case can be made for much of the standard and gimmicky bar food, which rises to a level slightly higher than one expects from a place that houses so many blaring flat-screen TVs: here are spicy wings; good, thick, hand-cut fries; and deep-fried novelties such as thick rectangular mac-'n'-cheese sticks and "Leader balls," mini corn-studded arancini with red pepper fondue. Along with wide booths and big tables, large workmanlike salads and build-your-own burgers with above-average toppings such as Guinness-battered onion rings and roasted garlic fondue make this a good spot for sportos to spread out and settle in with some quality junk food. —Mike Sula

Prix Fixe

4835 N. Western | 773-681-0651

$$$

CONTEMPORARY/REGIONAL | DINNER: TUESDAY-SATURDAY | BYO

This earnest, modest little spot from a pair of culinary-school instructors recently returned to the game boasts an extremely narrow concept: a three-course local and seasonal set menu featuring a choice of apps, three entrees, and three desserts. Owners John Fuente and Alisa Gaylon and a crew made up of student externs operate from a small open kitchen in the rear of a dining room decorated with black-and-white Chicagoscapes on the north wall and French scenes on the south. So far, while the ambition of the dishes runs toward a conservative European-inspired curriculum, execution is less predictable. Some items on a recent evening came to the table stale-tasting (cheese straws) or cold (a potato-topped flatbread) while others—such as a perfectly acceptable lyonnaise salad or crispy griddled polenta cakes with a winning salad of braised celery hearts and shallots—showed promise. Still others were just head-scratching, like a charred puck of "caramelized blue cheese" and a spaghetti carbonara with no evident egg or cheese. The good news: the current (but not permanent) BYOB status, the very reasonable $35 price tag, and the frequently updated menu ought to encourage multiple visits, provided the cooking graduates. —Mike Sula

Restaurant Buen Gusto

1636 W. Howard | 773-274-2570

$

MEXICAN/SOUTHWESTERN | LUNCH, DINNER: MONDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED SUNDAY | CASH ONLY | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

The taqueria empire of North Clark Street extends its dominion eastward with this austere little storefront, located on Howard just across the Red Line tracks. It's sparsely decorated—the walls sport a photo of historic New York City as well as the requisite sombrero-topped cartoon figure—and on a recent visit, sparsely patronized. Still, Buen Gusto might fill a niche as a commuters' destination: the food here is nothing if not cheap, filling, and portable. A chorizo and egg torta dressed with mayo was salty, heavy, and not unsatisfying; enchiladas were about the same. The tacos were the best of what I tried, with fresh and well-flavored meat under a slather of queso—chicken and steak varieties were both quite good. I'd heard that pastor was a specialty here, but by Saturday night it was sold out. Standard-issue green and red salsas came alongside; the red was described to me as the spicier option, but it's pretty weak sauce—I preferred the green, its acidic kick sufficient to cut through the meats' saltiness. Counter service is charmingly awkward. —Sam Worley

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