2301 W. Foster
At DORADO RESTAURANT in Albany Park, chef Luis Perez applies the French bistro cooking techniques he learned under Jack Jones (as chef de cuisine at Jack's American Blend and Bistro Marbuzet and sous-chef at Daniel J's) to the Mexican food his mother cooked when he was growing up. Perez says he's been "experimenting with different ways to combine ingredients." His brief menu offers unique takes on Mexican favorites like roast pork (his version is a thick tenderloin, impossibly rosy and tender and served with a guajillo cream sauce) and red snapper a la Veracruz (he replaces the traditional tomato-and-onion sauce with a wonderful guava beurre blanc). The specials change daily; if you're lucky Perez will bring back the crunchy almond-crusted trout laced with satiny coconut cream sauce and caramelized plantains, a lovely contrast of earthy and sweet. For dessert there's one of the richest flans around and a moist, light tres leches cake. The typical entree is priced in the mid-teens, and the place is still BYO--consider bringing a light- to medium-bodied red wine (like a pinot noir from Burgundy or Oregon) or even a full-bodied white (like a Condrieu from the Rhone Valley or a Riesling from Wachau, Austria).
3441 N. Halsted
Mark Liberson (who owns Hydrate) and Mark Kwiatkowski (Cherry Red, Joy Blue, Crush) teamed up with chef Bob Zrenner (Tournesol, North Pond) and sommelier Amy Lewis (North Pond, MK) to open X/O CHICAGO, yet another local restaurant serving small-plate cuisine. The portions here are bigger than at most, though, and Zrenner's Asian- and Mediterranean-influenced food is better. The shrimp and scallop dish is three large mounds of diced fresh seafood in a rich homemade miso mayonnaise, perched on crisp disks of breaded eggplant and topped with crunchy fried leeks. The refreshing grilled octopus salad is baby octopus marinated in lemon and garlic, tossed with frisee, and drizzled with a pungent lemon vinaigrette. The petite lobster tail and claw has big pieces of lobster in a tangy horseradish dressing, accompanied by diced yellow and red beets that add a subtle sweetness. More than half the menu is devoted to seafood, but red-meat lovers will be pleased with the eight-ounce seared rib eye, fanned out and cooked medium rare then topped with a "secret" sauce (I tasted soy, ginger, and garlic), charred onions, and a mound of matchstick potatoes. Wine sampling is encouraged, with two-and-a-half-ounce tasting pours of more than 20 wines available, plus six flights--one that goes well with most of the menu is the Sassy Flight, two whites and two reds that'll take you through the entire meal. The room, designed by Jeremiah Johnson (Mirai Sushi, Sound-Bar, Piece), has Brazilian hardwood trim and tabletops textured like the skin of a basketball. A lounge in the back, open till three on Saturday and two on Friday, serves burgers and sandwiches.
5657 N. Clark
Chef Nick Van Wassenhove (Rosebud, La Vita, Le Lan) offers a contemporary Italian menu at LEONARDO'S, a stylish Tuscan restaurant in north Andersonville. Starters include delicately battered and fried calamari, an antipasto plate with capicola, sopprasata, goat cheese, and roasted vegetables, and veal-stuffed sweet red peppers with a robust roasted-garlic sauce. The pasta dishes are skillfully--sometimes painstakingly--executed. The veal osso buco ravioli, for instance, involves stuffing delicate homemade pasta with veal shank, bone marrow, and goat cheese, then pouring a veal demi-glace over it all. "That dish takes 18 hours to prepare, start to finish," says general manager Nicholas Lavorato. "It's quickly becoming our signature dish." The tortelloni, stuffed with butternut squash, pancetta, and baby spinach and served in a Pecorino Romano-brown butter sauce, is rich and satisfying. Meat dishes include a roasted bone-in half chicken with a fresh-tasting oregano pesto, fingerling potatoes, and fried strings of beets that look almost like curly fries, along with steak, veal, and fish options. For a finishing touch, the kitchen offers a beautiful complimentary platter of fresh fruit; there's also homemade gelato on the menu. Take advantage of the temporary BYO status and grab a bottle of Barbaresco or Dolcetto di Diano d'Alba at Buy Low Liquors--ten blocks south at Clark and Foster--where the staff is knowledgeable and helpful.
Other Recent Openings
Dunlays on the Square, 3137 W. Logan, 773-227-2400. A duplicate of the eclectic American Dunlays on Clark in the former Boulevard Cafe space.
Good to Go Jamaican Jerk and Juice Bar, 1947 W. Howard, 773-381-7777. Jamaican food and a long list of fresh-fruit drinks near the Evanston border.
The Rail Bar & Grill, 4709 N. Damen, 773-878-9400. Upscale bar food from Wild Goose owner Giuseppe Salemme.
Rancho Luna en el Paseo, 2458 W. Division, 773-276-0057. Humboldt Park Cuban from the family that owns Rancho Luna on Peterson.
Via Due, 1417 W. Fullerton, 773-348-9463. Wine bar and casual eatery by Via Carducci owner Giovanni Scalzo, right next door to his nine-year-old neighborhood favorite.
Addis Abeba, 3521 N. Clark; Boulevard Cafe, 3137 W. Logan; Ethiopian Village Cafe, 3462 N. Clark; GP Franklin's, 4767 N. Lincoln; Ice Dreams, 2865 N. Clark; Jewel of India (temporarily closed for renovations), 2401 W. Devon; Pearl Supper Club & Lounge, 2360 N. Clybourn; Prairie, 500 S. Dearborn.