Ina Pinkney is back after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, and she's landed in the Randolph Street market district with the sprightly and eponymous ina's. Brick walls are brightened with salmon trim and aqua wainscoting, and each table is topped with white butcher paper and a pair of wacky salt and pepper shakers from her eclectic collection. Plenty of windows bring in natural light. It's a good spot for a cheerful breakfast, but neighborhood competition may make bringing in lunch and dinner traffic a bit trickier. Entrees are simple American favorites like roast chicken, meat loaf, beef stew, and whitefish with mashed potatoes; there's also a BLT, a grilled cheese with Gruyere and Swiss, and a turkey and Swiss sandwich. The breakfast menu is limited to a few specialties--pancakes (either Ina's signature buttermilk or whole wheat oatmeal, filled with blueberries or bananas for an extra charge), homemade granola with dried cranberries, and a vegetable hash, made, oddly, with cream so it steams rather than browns. Fresh Red Hen bread is a definite plus. The coffee is too weak, but this place is likely to give Wishbone, located just around the corner, a run for its money nevertheless. Ina's is at 1235 W. Randolph, 312-226-8227.
[Pleasant Asian newcomer du yee lives up to its name, which translates as "one of a kind," with a menu that tweaks standard Korean and Chinese fare. Take the "soong" appetizer, for example--a lettuce cup filled with rice and a blend of ground chicken, black mushrooms, water chestnuts, and scallions (there's also an all-vegetable variety), topped with a mouthwatering plum sauce. Equally intriguing are several vegetable appetizers reminiscent of Korean panchan: the "Silk Thread," shredded potato drizzled with a ginger sesame sauce; soybean sprouts steeped in a garlic broth; and cold wheat noodles in a spicy red pepper sauce. In Du Yee's version of the classic Korean hot pot, a crock full of simmering stock comes to the table along with a platter of assorted vegetables, tofu skin, and your choice of meat. Diners plug the pots in at their tables and cook the ingredients using a small strainer; the flavorful stock then becomes an after-meal soup. Spring wraps are another specialty--meat, pork, chicken, or vegetables are marinated in a soy and black bean sauce, then wrapped in a flour pancake with bean sprouts. The extensive menu continues with Chinese appetizers, noodle soups, and plenty of meat, fish, and vegetarian entrees. Special attention is paid to healthful preparations, and most dishes come low in oil and salt. The simple room features lots of natural wood and a few Japanese prints hanging on the vanilla walls. Du Yee is at 3203 N. Clark, 773-549-5698.
Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater has brought the blues to Wicker Park with his new club and restaurant, reservation blues, located along the bustling stretch of Milwaukee just south of North Avenue. Plenty of music paraphernalia decorates the place: one of his many guitars and some of his colorful boots and hats perch above the bar; pictures of the Chief and other blues stars plaster the exposed brick walls; and one of his headdresses decorates the small stage. The southwestern theme is carried through on the menu, which features starters like a sampling platter of cornmeal-crusted sweet potato fries (in need of salt), duck confit taquitos rolled in bright red tortillas, a cumin-heavy summer vegetable tamale, and a goat cheese and chicken quesadilla. Ambitious nightly specials might include pork chops in an apple brandy butter sauce with chili-flecked mashed potatoes or panfried rainbow trout in a white wine dill sauce. The room gets loud by 10, which is when the live music starts; it's best to arrive earlier for dinner. Reservation Blues is at 1566 N. Milwaukee, 773-645-5200.
Construction continues along West Madison, and lexi's is geared up for the housing boom--whenever it may hit. Formerly Madison's, this spot is now owned by the convivial and omnipresent Nick Andrews (whose background is in fast food), and the neutral walls, colorful jazz-themed paintings, and long oak bar set a nice stage for chef Andrew Pratt's bold American menu. After a short stint at Fahrenheit (before that he was at Spruce), Pratt seems to have hit his stride here. Starters include a game- and mushroom-stuffed whole grilled quail in a rich truffle demiglace and a somewhat bland snapping turtle spring roll served with an indistinctive spicy banana dipping sauce. Not to be missed is the crab Napoleon; this loose interpretation of the classic dish is a cylindrical tower of plump crab pressed with fresh chunks of avocado in a luscious blood orange vinaigrette. Striped bass on a sweet potato flan wasn't as good as the filet mignon, which was adorned with perfectly roasted Yukon potato halves and topped with a wonderful shiitake and chanterelle mushroom ragout. No comment on the service, as the place was dead empty. It's still BYOB, although that's slated to change soon. Lexi's is at 1330 W. Madison, 312-829-4600.
--LAURA LEVY SHATKIN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yvette Marie Dostatni.