Just up the street from the California Clipper, FLYING SAUCER owners Rebecca Gleason and Atha Moe have given an artistic makeover to the space formerly occupied by Mary's diner. To make the room a little less gritty, they've torn. out a dropped ceiling, ripped down paneling to reveal two arched windows, and painted the walls teal and pistachio. Chairs upholstered in a patchwork of pastels and Gleason's huge grainy photos of roadside Americana counter the harsh iron grids covering the front windows, and they've kept some of the more charming old fixtures: the milk shake machine, a Kellogg's cereal rack. Weekend breakfast is the most popular meal here, though the menu offers. mostly standards: eggs, pancakes, and sides, plus a few Mexican-inflected contenders like the huevos volando--eggs with tortillas, black beans, cheese, ancho chili sauce, and salsa. The lunch and dinner menus aim slightly higher, with salads, sandwiches, and several vegetarian and vegan options- (they'll also gladly substitute tofu for meat in many dishes). Home-cooked nightly specials include meat loaf with tomato chutney;. tamarind-and-chili-basted chicken; and the -disappointing Bob's Big Bowl, consisting of chunks of tofu coated in a salty powder (tasting a bit like soup mix), then fried and served with spinach and brown rice. (You can add vegetables for $2 or cheddar cheese for a buck.) Baked goods may be the highlight; it's worth saving room for scrumptious sweets like apple cranberry pie or chocolate bread pudding with caramel sauce alongside a French press pot of loose leaf tea. Flying Saucer is at 1123 N. California, 773-342-9076.
Brothers Kee and Macku Chan have finally opened HEAT, their much -anticipated high-end sushi restaurant, after the scheduled December opening was stalled. If the delay allowed them to tend to details, it was worth it-this unassuming storefront is chic and minimalist inside. A black stone inlay backs the long sushi bar, a frosted glass ledge fronts it, and a knee-level saltwater fish tank sits underneath it. Fresh flowers provide the only color: delicate fuschia orchids float in small glass vases along the bar, and huge vases of birds-of-paradise flank the tables lining the opposite mirrored wall. The choice seats in this tiny room (there are fewer than a dozen tables) are at the sushi bar; that's the only place you can order the "chefs choice" cavalcade, a succession of varying bites that keep coming until you say stop. (You're charged by, the piece, and the selection is up to the sushi masters, so it's not for the budget-conscious Most intriguing is a special option whereby you can call a day ahead to reserve a whole fish, to be served hours after it's killed; if you look closely, you can even see a twitch or -two -as the fish is served. If all that isn't alluring enough, an I I -course degustation menu will debut as soon as Heat gets its liquor license. A sneak preview of the wine list revealed an impressive array of saki and fruity white wines, as well as several reds. Heat is at 1,507 N. Sedgwick, 312-397-0668.
Fans of Mas will be glad to know that a sibling has arrived in the tiny space on Southport that used to house Dish. Partners Hubie Greenwald and chef John Manion have given OTRO MAS the same design and lively, upbeat ambience as the original: dark-stained wood floors, tables topped with butcher paper, fauxfinished -walls and ceilings, and funky Latin music that's loud but not too loud for easy conversation. Marbled cream-colored leather banq uettes provide comfortable seating, although tables are so closely spaced that privacy isn't really an option. Otro Mas's menu doesn't stray far from its predecessor's. Starters include a complimentary cumin-heavy bean dip served with bread; a daily seviche (the one I tried, with rock shrimp and tuna, was a bit soupy); shrimp and lobster bisque with sweet corn and jalapeno oil; and a thick arepa (corn cake) served with several fried shrimp, beberete salsa (made mostly of tomatoes), and buerre blanc. The dry-aged New York strip came charred on the outside and nicely medium rare on the inside, accompanied by chipotle butter, potatoes mashed with Cabrales (Spanish blue cheese), and "tobacco" onions -- basically, onion rings coated in a tasty combination of chilies and spices. An elegant seared duck breast was served fanned out around a mound of pear salsa, next to a flaky empanada filled with tender duck-leg confit and drizzled with a rum reduction. Beverages stay in the Latin vein, with a selection of high-end tequilas and Brazilian cocktails (caipirinhas, batidas, and mojitos) and a limited but thoughtful wine list with an emphasis on Spanish selections. The bar isn't fully stocked yet, so ask what's available before getting your hopes up. The second floor, opening this spring, will accommodate additional diners or private parties. Otro Mas is at 3651 N. Southport, 773-348-3200.
--LAURA LEVY SHATKIN