Restaurants: New Too, April 23, 2009 | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

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Restaurants: New Too, April 23, 2009

Seven more recent openings

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Restaurant listings are culled from the Reader Restaurant Finder, an online database of more than 4,200 Chicago-area restaurants. Restaurants are reviewed by staff, contributors, and (where noted) individual Reader Restaurant Raters. Though reviewers try to reflect the Raters' input, reviews should be considered one person's opinion; the Raters' collective opinions are best expressed in the numbers. Complete searchable listings, Raters' comments, and information on how to become a Rater are at chicagoreader.com/restaurantfinder.

New Too

Al Amira3200 W. Lawrence | 773-267-0333

$Middle Eastern | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: 24 hours every day | BYO

This small section of Lawrence Avenue is home to a cluster of Iraqi restaurants, with George's Kabob and Mataam al Mataam—which Al Amira has replaced—operating due west. And while this spiffy 24-hour spot doesn't churn out the juiciest rotisserie chickens or shawarma in the neighborhood, and some standard items such as falafel, baba ghanoush, and hummus aren't particularly distinguished, daily specials such as kubba, potato dumplings stuffed with ground beef in a thin tomato sauce, served with crispy kubba mosul, a thin barley pancake stuffed with ground meat, are well made. Other specials may include biryani, the rice and eggplant casserole maqluba, or bamia, okra stew with big chunks of fatty lamb neck. Portions are cheap and large and at 1 AM can be a welcome relief from typical late-night options. —Mike Sula

Flying Chicken3402 W. Montrose | 773-477-1090

$Latin American | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Saturday till 11 | BYO

The resurrection of this onetime North Center Colombian restaurant perpetuates this area's saturation of South American rotisserie chicken joints. As at the Peruvian Fina Estampa a little ways east, Flying Chicken doesn't seem to be wooing many customers away from the established and far busier Brasa Roja or D'Candela, and consequently can't maintain a consistent turnover of fresh, hot birds that haven't been held and reheated at the expense of their vital fluids. For that matter, so go the tired, dry arepas and the picada Colombiana, an initially impressive large wooden bowl filled with overfried, toothpick-speared sausage, chicharrones, riblets, cassava, and potato chunks. That along with wan, rubbery garlic shrimp with iceberg lettuce doesn't bode well for the selection of steaks and seafood items. However, the leftover birds are pulling their weight, contributing to a mean sanocho de gallina (hen soup) with a rich, thick stock made from gizzards, livers, and necks. They could downsize to a mobile cart dishing out this stuff and I'd be happy. —Mike Sula

Hoosier Mama Pie Shop1618½ W. Chicago | 312-243-4846

$Bakery, Coffee Shop | tuesday-saturday 8 am-7 pm, saturday 9 am-5 pm | Closed Sunday, Monday | Reservations not accepted

Former Trio pastry chef Paula Haney's four-year rise from farmers' market vendor to Queen of Tarts has been well documented, and this permanent home ought to make every fan more secure in the knowledge that her laboriously created heritage pies can be had five days a week in one spot. From the slim, delicate crispy-topped vinegar chess pie with its subtle hit of acid to the buxom coconut cream with enveloping strata of toasted coconut, there's a rotating seasonal selection out of a repertoire of dozens, available whole or by the slice with a hot cuppa Metropolis. Currently there are two savory pies on offer, a pork-apple-sage and a fantastic chicken potpie with tender, juicy irregular knobs of poultry and big chunks of vegetables and potatoes cooked to an apple-y snap. This tiny three-table shop could be to pies what Hot Doug's is to sausage. —Mike Sula

Markethouse611 N. Fairbanks | 312-224-2200

$$$$American Contemporary/Regional | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days

The header on the menu of the Doubletree Hotel's new Markethouse promises a marriage of "heartland basics with new cooking styles and ingredients, so you'll find surprising twists to otherwise well-known dishes." I assume that refers to eyeball grabbers like the goat cheese nougat with apple and beet salad, the pistachio brittle with squash soup, or the pickled Asian pear with diver scallops. In execution, I'm not sure those represent anything more radical than creative applications of classic techniques, but chef Scott Walton's steering of the seasonal/local bandwagon ought to pack in the hotel guests, if not necessarily locals, who have an increasing number of similarly driven chefs to follow. One surprising twist not detailed on the menu is the caul fat wrapped around the meat loaf. This is a technique often used in making sausage and other meat preparations to keep them moist and juicy. It works—and it shows that Walton should be taken seriously. So do dishes like juicy honey-cayenne rotisserie chicken with fingerlings topped by sweet candied lemon and the white cheddar mac 'n' cheese gratin, made with al dente penne, larded with bacon bits, and topped with a crown of browned melted cheese. Markethouse's sprawling dining room, with giant windows looking out onto Fairbanks, serves three squares, including a breakfast buffet, as well as a late-night bar menu. Even with every chef on the planet going seasonal, it should be fun to watch what Walton comes up with. —Mike Sula

Tapas Valencia1530 S. State | 312-842-4444

$$$Tapas/Spanish | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days, Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

The fairly formulaic menu at this South Loop tapas restaurant is less Spanish than Span-American, a hybrid offered by practically every tapas bar in town. You can still have a good time—just don't expect the place to be something it isn't. I enjoyed the well-made, if too cold, wedge of tortilla española, the timbale of pisto manchego (Spain's answer to ratatouille), and the fresh artichoke hearts with hard-boiled egg in a creamy, tangy tomato vinaigrette, though the fibrous leaves should have been trimmed off. The best of my hot tapas was pato confitado, a moist confit of duck leg, paired with sauteed apples and mushrooms. Tiny seafood-stuffed baby squid in ink sauce were bland and a bit chewy, while the crunchy bacon-wrapped dates looked like they'd overstayed their time in the oven. The biggest disappointment was a special: tostadas con langosta, soggy toast points smeared with tuna, potato, capers, and chopped tomatoes and topped with flavor-challenged rock lobster that I suspect may have actually been the Alaskan king crab used on the regular menu's tostadas. But tarta de pera, almond-pear pound cake with ice cream and caramel sauce, ended the evening on a sweet note. —Anne Spiselman

Taste of Brasil906 S. Oak Park, Oak Park | 708-383-3350

$South American | Monday-friday 7:30 am-7 PM, saturday 9 am-8 PM | Closed Sunday

Restaurants where you can order one of everything on the menu and eat it all in the same sitting are rare, but if you're hungry, Taste of Brasil could be one. Salgadinhos, small Brazilian snacks, don't just dominate the menu at this cafe—aside from a few kinds of cake, they are the menu. Favorites from the dozen-odd available when we went were the coxinhas de frango (chicken croquettes with onions and olives), risoles (croquettes with fillings including shrimp with tomato and beef with cream cheese), pao de queijo (cheese bread), kibe (Middle Eastern meatballs with bulgur and olives), empadinhas (tiny flaky-crusted pies) of heart of palm and cream cheese, and a guava and mozzarella empanada, the sole sweet offering. Except for slightly dry chicken empadinhas, all were good, but the best thing on the menu had to be the tangy lemonade, made fresh with lemon and lime (and a bargain at only $1.80). The rest of the drinks menu is fairly standard cafe fare: coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. On Saturdays they also offer feijoada, a smoky black bean stew liberally studded with pork and sausage, served with rice, collard greens with bacon, salad, and farofa, a side dish made of manioc flour. —Julia Thiel

Tocco1266 N. Milwaukee | 773-687-8895

$$$ Italian, Pizza | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday| Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2; Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday till 11

"Remember: good shoes, good wine, and good food make your life better. Ciao from Bruno." That's the sign-off on the voice mail for Tocco, Bruno Abate's high-fashion Wicker Park pizzeria/trattoria/runway, an adjunct to his couture-themed Follia. And it does look mahvelous in a menacing, modish sort of way—the sort of place one's droogies might peet the milk with the knives in it before doing the ultraviolent on some of the lewdies that are filling it up on weekends. But no one should doubt that serious pizzas emerge from the two wood-burning ovens hidden in plain sight behind the bar, particularly the three varieties of schiacciata, minimally topped flatbreads whose saucelessness allows the thin crust to develop in all its full blistered chewiness; I particularly liked the one with funky, full-flavored speck and melted Taleggio. However, the small rear kitchen responsible for the rest of the menu—antipasti, salads, house-made pastas, and meatier second courses—seems less capable of its mission and hampered by less-than-ideal ingredients. A plate of gnocco frito, knobs of fried dough that were undercooked inside, were accompanied by supermarket-quality salumi. And someone in the kitchen seems to be scared to death of overcooking starches, as evidenced by a granular polenta and tough paccheri (like supersize rigatoni) with spent chunks of pork. I've never had a look at Abate's footwear, but I found myself wondering if the primary ingredient in his particular recipe for la dolce vita isn't actually fine Italian shoe leather, with the vino and the food running a long second and third. —Mike Sula

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