Restaurants: In the Neighborhood, April 24, 2008 | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

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Restaurants: In the Neighborhood, April 24, 2008

Twenty-two more restaurants in Lakeview

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In the Neighborhood

Twenty-two more restaurants in Lakeview

Adesso3332 N. Broadway | 773-868-1516

F 6.6 | S 6.3 | A 6.3 | $$ (8 reports)Italian | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday-Sunday till 11 | BYO

Adesso is a return to his Italian roots for owner Franco Gianni, who's also behind Tank Sushi and Sushi Wabi. The southern Italian cooking in this 32-seat space is meant to be unfussy and accessible, in an atmosphere of festive neighborliness (no kidding—parties are seated together at communal tables). Simple ingredients stood out in a bruschetta of thick rustic bread, ricotta, and slightly roasted tomatoes topped with honey—the ricotta was the type of fresh that makes you wonder if you've ever truly tasted a food before. Other starters include the requisite calamari fritti, an antipasto plate, and a generous bowl of meaty mussels in a white wine and herb broth with nicely browned toast, Sicilian style. Zuppe di cipolle e sidro, onion-and-cider soup with a provolone crust, was salty-sweet without being too much of either. But the knockout dish was carbonata di costine di manzo, slow-braised beef short ribs over shallot-studded polenta—we passed the plate back and forth till it shone clean. —Tasneem Paghdiwala

The Bagel3107 N. Broadway | 773-477-0300

$Kosher/Jewish/Deli | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Reservations accepted for large groups only | BYO

A big bowl of Mish-Mash Soup—chicken broth with noodles, kreplach, rice, kasha, and a matzo ball—is the object of many a flu-addled diner's pilgrimage to this much-loved Lakeview deli. Other menu items, while not as overtly therapeutic, have similarly comforting effects. They include an array of hearty sandwiches, daily soups, and hot entrees. Breakfast is served all day. While some Raters feel the room could use a face-lift, others find the shabby decor charming and comfortable. A takeout counter in front does brisk business. —Martha Bayne

Bbop3952 N. Sheridan | 773-868-0828

$$Asian, Korean | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Reservations not accepted | BYO

Attempts to make Korean food less intimidating to non-Koreans are typically directed at a demographic more impressed by hipster sojutini gimmickry than food (see Jin Jiu, the late Soju, and Su-ra). Another avenue is no-frills, bulgogi-and-rice-slinging fast food. Bbop, in the shadow of the Sheridan Red Line stop, takes the latter turn, with a stripped-down, mostly takeout operation focusing on the basics—marinated meats and rice, bi bim bop, soup, and cellophane noodles and vegetables. The food is greasy, hot, and plentifully portioned, cooked guerrilla style by scruffy young dudes in a tiny open kitchen. There are a few cafe tables in the narrow fluorescent-lit storefront, a caricature of Kim Jong Il in drag on the men's room door, and perhaps a few skateboards leaning against the wall. The food and surroundings are nothing to write home about, but it's affordable and fast, and if you stop in you probably have someplace else to be anyway. —Mike Sula

Bolat African Cuisine3346 N. Clark | 773-665-1100

F 6.1 | S 5.6 | A 5.2 | $ (5 reports)African | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Monday-Saturday till midnight | Vegetarian friendly

Don't assume the big, colorful balls of yam, cassava, and maize served at Bolat are just simple sides on a par with dinner rolls or mashed potatoes. Rather, amala (ground yam, purple and glutinous), fufu (beaten yam or cassava, white and firm), and kenkey (fermented maize) are integral to Ghanaian and Nigerian meals. Big as softballs, these doughy dumplings are to be ripped, shaped into small scoops, and used as eating utensils whose absorbency is a major consideration with many stews and soups served here. We had egusi stew, clumps of ground watermelon seed in tomato-spinach sauce, and ewedo soup, goat in whipped jute leaves, herbaceous and gooey. My partner had spicy fish and jollof rice with a deep smokiness that comes from letting the rice burn just enough. Feeling adventurous, we also sampled a small bowl of cow skin, kind of a combo of fat and gristle with minimal taste, though—like much we had here—new to our palates and so worth a bite. Palm wine, served in gourds, is salty, sour, and surprisingly complementary to saucy main courses. —David Hammond

Coobah3423 N. Southport | 773-528-2220

F 7.4 | S 6.8 | A 7.3 | $$$ (18 reports)Latin American | Dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight

Coobah serves the nuevo Latino food of executive chef Jimmy Madla (formerly Veruca Salt's drummer). Appetizers include a Caesar salad sweetened up with creamy sugarcane dressing and a fiery jibarito with jerk chicken; meat-centric entrees feature the chicken Negro Modelo, a Latin take on beer-can chicken. A good choice for late-night dining might be the hand-rolled tamales, $3.25 each and filled with spicy pork or black beans and cheese. The mostly Latin American and Spanish wine list is full of reasonably priced gems, many poured by the glass; there's also an extensive list of mixed drinks. French doors open onto the main dining room in summer, and there's an inviting outdoor patio, often packed. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Cousin's2833 N. Broadway | 773-880-0063

$$Mediterranean, Middle Eastern | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11:30 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

Turkish specialties stand out now that Yasar Demir, of the late Cafe Demir, is the chef/owner of this spacious, eclectically decorated restaurant furnished with cushioned platforms and low hammered-brass tables, as well as regular seating including a sidewalk cafe. Start with patlican salata, garlicky eggplant spread, or ezme, a spicy blend of seared bell and banana peppers with red pepper paste and chopped walnuts. One big plus: the pide, a house-made Turkish bread, is the best in town, at least when it's fresh. Of the hot appetizers, mujver (zucchini pancakes) here are more like fritters and feature grated carrots too. Arnavut cigeri, Albanian-style panfried liver and potatoes, is a tasty nonvegetarian opener. All the usual kebabs are on hand, but Demir's long suit is yogurt adana, tubes of piquant minced lamb, grilled and served over cubes of pide, smothered with garlic-yogurt sauce, and accompanied by a spicy green pepper and roasted peeled tomato. Garlic yogurt, tomato sauce, and melted butter adorn manti, half moons of pasta stuffed with mushrooms and onions. They're as large as ravioli rather than tiny like authentic manti but a nice vegetarian variation nonetheless. If the panfried trout is on hand—not the case on my recent visits—order it. Also top-notch and great for sharing: pideler, boat-shaped thick-crust pizzas with a choice of fillings ranging from Turkish sausage with mozzarella to mixed vegetables. There are limited desserts, tea in little tulip glasses, Turkish coffee, and Turkish beer and wine. One caveat: service can be pokey. —Anne Spiselman

Crisp2940 N. Broadway | 877-693-8653

$Korean, American | Lunch, dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Reservations not accepted | BYO

Doug Funke says he and partner Jae Lee sampled the goods at more than 200 chain and mom-and-pop fried chicken joints from coast to coast in preparation for opening Crisp, their new spot in Lakeview, which draws its main influence from Korean tong dak—whole fried chickens hacked into pieces. Until recently this dangerously attractive style was available only in slightly forbidding bars such as the Hourglass or Korean-Chinese restaurants like Great Sea (wings only at the latter). Now there are two new Korean chains pushing the stuff, one out in Mount Prospect and the other in the Niles H-Mart, but this homegrown effort seems the most promising. There are two offerings representing the Korean style, and while Funke admits the heat in the "Crisp BBQ" has been turned down for American palates, it's still a commendable version—dark red, slightly sweet, and sprinkled with sesame seeds—and customers have the option to dial it back up. "Seoul Sassy" is a more multidimensional soy-ginger-garlic-based recipe, sweeter but not obnoxious. The sauces here don't overwhelm the bird but rather complement the crackly skin; in fact, they're so integrated it seems strange to even call them sauces. Unsauced "Plain Jane" fried chicken is also available, as are buffalo wings made from a recipe "stolen" from the Ravenswood hot dog stand Budacki's Drive-In, owned by Lee's family. If I have any worry for this ambitious project, it's that Lee and Funke are overextending themselves by offering cutesy renditions of bi bim bop, mandoo, salads, sandwiches, sides, and Korean "burritos," all with a dizzying abundance of options. White rice or organic brown rice in the bowl? Steamed or fried dumplings? Want cheese with that burrito? Bacon, beef, chicken, or shrimp in that salad? They could just sell fried chicken skin and I'd be satisfied. —Mike Sula

Dona Torta/Tortas USA3057 N. Ashland | 773-871-8999

$Mexican/Southwestern | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night Till midnight

You'd think there wasn't an actual Mexican living in Chicago, judging by some of the El Famous Loco Picante King burritos around town. With more lettuce, tomato, and cheese than meat and enough sour cream to spackle a house, all in a starched white tortilla, these head-size monsters are closer to a chicken wrap from a food court than to the greasy but delectable gut bombs real Mexican restaurants serve. This sit-down stand in Lakeview, known variously over the years as Dona Torta or Tortas USA, manages to straddle the cultural divide with burritos that are recognizably Mexican yet significantly lower the grease quotient. The "healthy burrito" option allows you to construct your own assortment of natural and vegetarian fillings ranging from black beans and cilantro to corn and spinach. But even the traditional steak or chicken burritos are lighter than most of their counterparts around town, with chunks of grilled white meat instead of a stringy mass of stewed chicken and served with a stripe of mango salsa. (Mango is also one of the flavors of the shakes here, a nice alternative to soft drinks.) Oddly, given the restaurant's name, the tortas are much less of a draw: they're as heavy as the burritos aren't. —Mike Gebert

Fiorentino's Cucina Italiana2901 N. Ashland | 773-244-3026

$$$Italian | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Fiorentino's is truly a family-run restaurant: Signora Fiorentino rushed to greet us when we walked in, stopped by frequently, and saw us to the door as we were leaving, always ready to talk about food. Sicilian, she's dreamed up a menu that tends toward seafood and dishes that show a restrained hand when it comes to sauce and spices. Calamari were fresh though a bit bland, but by Jove the mussels were probably the best I've had in Chicago: done point perfect, bursting with flavor, and served with a creamy pesto capellini. Stuffed gnocchi, not traditional but in every way marvelous, were soft and lush, delicately filled with ricotta and splashed with tomato cream sauce. Spiedini alla griglia, a signature dish, is char-grilled filet mignon simply and flavorfully topped off with lemon, garlic, and olive oil. Tiramisu, that old standard, is here extraordinarily light, reflecting the kitchen's gentle touch. Amusingly, the cannoli, Palermo's carnival treat, is here reinterpreted as a mound of slivered cocoa and ricotta studded with pastry triangles. —David Hammond

Fishpond4416 N. Clark | 773-271-1119

$Asian, Other Asian | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Closed Monday

As the name suggests, Fishpond features more seafood than your average Chicagoland Filipino joint. There's also lots of meat, but we were knocked out by some of the simpler Filipino dishes. The sinigang, for instance, fresh bok choy and daikon in a sour tamarind broth, is a superb example of this native soup. We were also pleased with the kare-kare, oxtail stew with, as the owner told us, "just a little tripe because people expect it." The chicken adobo is also quite tasty, with a nice vinegary tang. Come early and you can try a traditional breakfast of tapsilog, a mound of rice with fried egg and served with cured beef, bacon, or fish. On Wednesday, there's come-all-ye ballroom dancing instruction in the back room; a buffet is laid out on Wednesday and Friday. There's also a buffet at the weekend brunch, which runs from 11:30 AM to 3 PM. —David Hammond

Katachi3911 N. Sheridan | 773-880-5340

$$Asian, Japanese | Lunch: Friday-Sunday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11| BYO

Katachi's crowded space, coupled with the spartan seating—your choice of a straw chair or a backless wooden cube—isn't exactly conducive to a relaxing sushi experience. But the wildly surreal music they were piping through the place almost compensated for the lack of comfort with its utter hilarity. An operatic cover of "Happy Together"? The extended instrumental version of the "Theme From Shaft"? It was fortunate we had something amusing to focus on during the two hours it took for our miniature maki to be served. And I mean miniature: for the prices, the portions were ridiculously small. Our spicy tuna roll was barely even visible; I think there was a tiny smidgen of chile mayo in there somewhere, but it was hard to tell, and the Mexican maki (hamachi, avocado, jalapeno, and cilantro) was similarly bland. My biggest disappointment was with the sweet potato maki, rendered lovelessly as a dry, tiny thing with no eel sauce or the slightest fanfare to make it interesting. The chicken curry was tasty but, again, a child's portion at adult prices. And the one "special" roll I sampled, the Cubs maki, was nothing special—just shrimp, avocado, and green pepper tempura (not much in that name). —Rebecca Gordon, Rater

Kite Mandarin and Sushi3341 N. Lincoln | 773-472-2100

$Asian, Japanese, Chinese | Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11:30 PM | BYO

If "Mandarin and Sushi" seems like it might be a stretch, don't worry—the menu at this minimalist-chic Roscoe Village spot also claims to offer Szechuan, Hunan, Mongolian, and Shanghai dishes. As you quickly gather from the list of Chinese-American standards, the food's overarching nationality is Deliverian, but given the rather wan Asian takeout scene in Lakeview, Kite scores points for being relatively fresh, flavorful, and easy on the grease. Tender and velvety ginger-and-onion beef had the bright flavor of the visible chunks of ginger stirred into it. Stalwarts like sesame crispy chicken and moo shu pork were pleasant if undistinguished, but the scallion pancakes were a sad mockery of the delicate, generously overstuffed versions available in Chinatown and on Argyle Street. Perhaps the best thing about Kite is that the sushi has improved from the afterthought it seemed to be when the restaurant first opened. Pieces are on the small side, and the shrimp had a slight off taste, but salmon, maguro, and unagi were all quite good for the price, and make Kite a contender for Lakeview residents in need of an inexpensive fish fix. —Mike Gebert

Machu Picchu3856 N. Ashland | 773-472-0471

$$South American | Lunch: Friday-Sunday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11| BYO

The extensive menu at Machu Picchu resembles Rinconcito Sudamericano's, and for good reason: cooks Violeta Abad and Abraham Contreras worked there for years. Some of the standouts are the same too, including the anticuchos, spicy grilled beef hearts marinated in oil, vinegar, garlic, and peppers. Other openers range from ceviches to papa rellena, a deep-fried mashed-potato ball that arrived lukewarm with a bland beef stuffing. Chupe de camarones, a creamy corn-and-pea-studded chowder, was stocked with jumbo shrimp and spiked with huacatay (black mint); sudado de mariscos, steamed shellfish and chewy squid in tomato sauce, was served with boiled potato but not the promised white rice (a problem with other entrees as well). Arroz con pollo, cooked in Inca corn beer, featured green rice and bone-in chicken chunks nicely flavored by cilantro, which also brightened seco de carne, a beef stew with reasonably tender meat. Aji de gallina, finely shredded chicken in a blend of ground walnuts, milk, and cheese, was very mild despite the aji panca chiles listed in the description, and cau-cau, honeycomb tripe and cubed potatoes, was downright tame compared to fiery versions I've had laced with yellow chiles. Machu Picchu currently is BYO; a liquor license is in the works. —Anne Spiselman

Mama Desta's Red Sea3218 N. Clark | 773-935-7561

F 6.8 | S 5.6 | A 4.0 | $ (5 reports) African | Dinner: seven days | Vegetarian friendly

The standout dish on our injera-lined platter was the zighni, ground flank steak with onion, cumin, cardamom, and a whole lot of spicy red berbere sauce. I tend to find meat dishes at Ethiopian places overcooked and chewy—the yebeg (lamb) and doro alitchas (mild chicken stew) here were no exception—but I've found a favorite in zighni, which reminded me of Pakistani kheema. On the vegetable side, the metin shuro wat, a peppery, garlicky mash of yellow split peas, was a hit, but the bland bamyi (okra) and gomen (collard greens) went untouched. I asked for a tasting portion of the yasa wat, chunks of whitefish fried in onions, garlic, and berbere, and was genially offered a whole dish's worth on the house. We'd started with azzifah, a tangy, souplike dip of green beans and lentils with little tortilla squares for dipping, and ended with a dessert called Red Sea Cream, described on the menu as creamy pudding topped with honey and raspberry but tasting like sour cream topped with frozen raspberries. The tej, honey wine, was sweet enough to compensate though. —Tasneem Paghdiwala

Matsuya3469 N. Clark | 773-248-2677

$$Asian, Japanese | Lunch: Saturday-sunday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: every night Till 11:30 | Vegetarian friendly

The freshest sushi and sashimi and sizable portions of tempura and teriyaki set this spot apart from its neighbors on this busy stretch of Clark Street—one Rater says it reminds her of restaurants she's visited in Japan far more than most Chicago places. The room is cramped, and there's usually a line for a table, especially on weekends. But seating at the sushi bar affords room to breathe, and long hours allow for a late-night bite without the wait. Several Raters think it's the best place in town for vegetarian Japanese dining. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Nazarlik1650 W. Belmont | 773-327-5800

$Mediterranean | Lunch, dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Reservations accepted for large groups only | Cash only | Vegetarian friendly

Ahmet and Zeliha Aksoy have created a Turkish restaurant that seems like an extension of their own home, specializing in food from the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep, known for a great variety of kebabs and pastries and also for the spiciness of its cuisine, fueled by the sun-dried isot red pepper. This means dishes like the dangerously scarfable lahmacun, thin, wide disks of freshly rolled dough slathered with minced meat and vegetables and fired in the giant oven behind the counter; fat cheese and fresh spinach pies (gozleme); and a spicy, tender lamb kebab over chunky roasted baba ghanoush smothered with yogurt (ali nazik); plus mujver, fried zucchini fritters, and antep, a salad of chopped tomatoes and onion. But the real surprise on the menu is cig kofte, raw minced beef and spices kneaded with bulgur, sometimes for hours, then shaped into meatballs and eaten with fresh lettuce and strong drink. Instead of the traditional mutton, Ahmet Aksoy uses lean beef he cuts, trims, and grinds himself. He prefers to keep his exact recipe a secret, but I saw him add sumac, fresh garlic and onions, chopped green garlic tops, ginger, and four different red pepper pastes, including a dark, fiery isot paste imported from Turkey. It's so labor intensive that the Aksoys need a day's notice to make it. —Mike Sula

North Coast Cafe3613 N. Broadway | 773-549-7606

$Global/Fusion/Eclectic, Breakfast | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Vegetarian friendly

Chicago breakfast food seems to be in a Gilded Age, dominated by the overly crowded and highbrow (Orange, Bongo Room, Victory's Banner) or the grim and fratty (Golden Nugget). By comparison North Coast Cafe is an outpost of middlebrow sanity—tasty, affordable, and unpretentious. Plus, I've never had to wait for a table. I typically treat myself to the banana-walnut pancakes with heavy butter, a side of ham, and a cup of coffee; North Coast does the breakfast standards well. Someone in management must be Greek, because you can get gyros meat as a side to your eggs (delicious when dipped in yolk) and feta on almost any egg dish. Further unconventional offerings include vegetarian omelets like the Queen Mum (fresh broccoli, tomatoes, onions, jack cheese, and hollandaise) and the Fantasy (stir-fried vegetables, artichoke hearts, spinach, jack cheese, and more hollandaise), as well as five varieties of eggs Benedict. The decor is standard, but the two and a half rooms are bright and airy, and service has always been friendly. On Sundays there's free parking in the North Community Bank lot a half block up Broadway. —Anderson Gansner, Rater

Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine2945 N. Broadway | 773-472-4781

$$European, American | Lunch: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday; Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Vegetarian friendly

This Lakeview gourmet shop may be best known for its outstanding artisanal cheese selection, but it also offers carryout sandwiches featuring other mouthwatering products. Take the panino di prosciutto—San Daniele prosciutto with aged cheese and field greens on a fresh baguette—or the salumi Basquese, spicy salami with piquillo peppers. There's also a line of luxury picnic baskets ranging in the mid-$30s. Any sandwich is only as good as its bread; Pastoral's is made by Jory Downer of Bennison's Bakery in Evanston, a past winner at the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, or world cup of baking, in Paris. Menus are at pastoralartisan.com; there's a small outdoor seating area. For a picnic basket, call 24 hours in advance. There's a second location with indoor and outdoor seating at 53 E. Lake (312-658-1250). —Kathie Bergquist

Risque Cafe3419 N. Clark | 773-525-7711

$$american, Barbecue/Ribs, bar/lounge | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch| Open late: Saturday till 3, other nights till 2 | Reservations not accepted

It seems, in the wake of the phenomenal success of Smoque, that barbecue has become the new black. In fact, Chris Peckat, late of Meritage, appears to be taking his, ahem, cue not only from Barry Sorkin and company's model of barbecue in relatively polished surroundings (i.e., tables, not car hoods) but also the meathead chic of the Twisted Spoke and the classic-tattoos-and-good-booze shtick of Kuma's Korner. But it's all been taken very badly. The dark red painted room, accented with brushed steel and hung with giant paintings of tattooed cheesecake pinups, is permeated with the unmistakable scent of smoked meat polluted by a weird humid must, like the smell of a wet woodpile. I don't know if that's related to the particular smoking process—the restaurant says it uses bourbon-soaked wood chips in an electric smoker. Almost all of the choices carried a mere whiff of smoke but barely retained any taste of it. Ribs were mealy, pulled pork and brisket forgettable, and chicken was slimed in a weak sauce. One of the most interesting choices, house-smoked bacon, was a tepid cube of barely rendered fat that required a solid half hour to crisp up back at the lab. Starters were undistinguished, mostly fried bar food, aside from a soft pretzel that came to the table barely thawed. There's a wide selection of quality craft beers and whiskeys, many of which are good values, but to the hordes of drunken louts that will fill this place on game days I don't imagine the quality of the barbecue or the booze will matter much. —Mike Sula

Sapore di Napoli1406 W. Belmont | 773-935-1212

$$Pizza, Italian, Ice Cream | Lunch: saturday-Sunday; Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday| Closed Monday | Open late: Saturday till midnight, Friday till 11 | Reservations not accepted | BYO | Vegetarian friendly

"They used to do this a hundred years ago in Naples," the chef at Sapore di Napoli told us as he slammed a wad of dough against the counter—a little open-kitchen entertainment before the meal. The dozen kinds of authentic Italian-style pizza here include salsiccia e cipolle (Italian sausage with smoked mozzarella and onions), verdure (asparagus, zucchini, eggplant, and roasted peppers), and quattro stagioni (artichokes, prosciutto di parma, mushrooms, and olives). Thanks to the 800-degree brick oven, they're all rapidly prepared in "like, five minutes," said our server, and feature a crackerlike crust. A cooler holds about 14 flavors of gelato and sorbetto, all so good that you could be excused for playing dumb just to get samples. More exotic varieties include zabaglione, made with sweet marsala and tasting a lot like eggnog. We found the service at this small, warm restaurant endearing: setting down after-dinner coffee, our server said proudly, "I steamed the milk for you, so there's no coldness!" Sapore di Napoli is BYO, with a $5 corkage fee. —Anne Ford

Sweet Tamarind1034 W. Belmont | 773-281-5300

$Asian, Thai | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | BYO | Vegetarian friendly

Good Thai restaurants exploit the contrast between the culture's bright, gentle aesthetic and the seductive violence of its fiery sweet-and-salty cuisine. Sweet Tamarind has cutesypoo to spare but suffers from the all-too-common assumption that farang, non-Thais, have a lower threshold for spice than natives. The restaurant just recently moved to this new location, but in the kitchen a nimble-fingered vegetable sculptor is still gussying up plates served by laconic waitstaff in traditional dress. A variety of dishes play up the namesake fruit; some, like the chile shrimp in tamarind paste, are more cloying than others. Beef Paradise, so often deep-fried into leathery jerky, is crispy and tender, while the green papaya salad is the most convincing testament to the consistent freshness of ingredients. Still, eaters used to convincing waitstaff that they really can take the heat are advised to employ their preferred methods of persuasion. —Mike Sula

Terragusto Cafe & Local Market1851 W. Addison | 773-248-2777

F 8.6 | S 7.7 | A 6.3 | $$$ (6 reports)Italian | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | BYO | Vegetarian friendly

rrr Terragusto is a casual neighborhood cafe that happens to serve house-made pasta as good as—what the hell—any in Chicago. Owner and chef Theo Gilbert, who's worked at Spiaggia and Trattoria No. 10 and hawked his pasta at the Green City Market, works off a tiny but pristine menu: a handful of antipasti, a half-dozen fresh pastas, and family-style plates of meat and fish, all seared and roasted. The bywords are local, organic, and seasonal—at the front market counter, alongside the fresh pasta, there are multihued local eggs for sale. A deboned half chicken was glisteningly moist, and if I could I'd order the deeply flavored accompanying spinach as an entree. Baked polenta was texturally perfect, simultaneously yielding and firm, with seasonal toppings such as a combo of brussels sprouts, potatoes, and truffled fontina cheese. If the thin Swiss chard pasta with Bolognese sauce was underwhelming, the Bolognese missing the fatty sensuality of the best versions, that's in part because the capallaci ("bishop's hats") stuffed with roasted pumpkin and squash were good enough to silence the loudest conversation. Entrees at market prices include Gunthorp Farms organic pork loin and a fish of the day, and there's now a prix fixe option: a three-course meal for two is $36.50 per person, a two-course meal of antipasti and pasta is $27.50 per person (prices may vary seasonally). Terragusto is BYO, with a corkage fee of $1 per person. —Nicholas Day

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