Situated on a primo piece of real estate on the ground floor of the new Park View Hotel, facing the Green City Market, Perennial is for the most part a solid homecoming for chef de cuisine Ryan Poli (formerly of Butter), who's working under the aegis of executive chef Giuseppe Tentori (Boka). There's a rustic and seasonal simplicity that's occasionally sideswiped by some untamed flourishes: a sweet peekytoe crab salad was all but destroyed by a bitterly acid avocado mousse that's in the running for one of the worst things I've eaten all year, and the short-rib cannelloni that accompanied some otherwise beautiful seared sea scallops was a textural nightmare of overmanipulated manky meatstuff. Overall, though, Poli is working excellent ingredients into appealing, often colorful creations, from Roman-style crusty baked cylindrical semolina-beet gnocchi with a thick walnut puree to a portobello carpaccio salad with pickled garlic and diced prosciutto vinaigrette executed in such a way to make the meaty fungus almost diaphanous. A striped bass fillet with crisp, silvery skin in a bath of Parmesan-tomato jus stirred up happy childhood memories for a tablemate, who compared it to alphabet soup broth. The simplest dishes were the most impressive: a lamb duo of chops and spicy braised loin with eggplant chutney; a slick, lush foie gras torchon on the charcuterie plate; and a watermelon-tomato-olive oil salad that should be devastating at high tomato season. This is one of the most boring restaurant neighborhoods in the city, so Perennial ought to be valued by locals as well as hotel guests. —Mike Sula
Marcus Samuelsson—the photogenic Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised multimedia package, with the usual lauded cookbooks, TV shows, awards, and, oh yeah, international restaurants—plants his flag in Chicago with the casual, seafood-focused C-House, in the sleek new Affinia Hotel. He's one of many recent culinary colonialists to stretch their supply lines thisaway, and as such he surely has a healthy respect for the gustatory sophistication of a city that knows at least enough not to eat the alewives and zebra mussels. Or does he? Small, affordable raw bites from the "C-Bar" lead off the cryptic menu, and a chef's choice of seven ($25) might be the best way to experience both the range of innovation at work and the unfortunate range of quality. Ours went from luscious ribbons of salmon pastrami with caramelized cream cheese to shreds of octopus in a bland chile mayo with small dice of fried spuds (sorta like patatas bravas) to weepy, stringy fluke to a just plain wrongheaded roasted uni special we realized too late would be a preparation destined to destroy its sea-foamy essence. Tellingly, the best thing we ate was a land-based special: poached duck egg with hollandaise, the yolk oozing into a pile of black kale sitting next to some crispy slices of sherry-mustard-seasoned pork belly. (Put that on the breakfast menu, stat.) Apart from that, a Thai-style raw tuna and green papaya salad had none of the incendiary brilliance of a more traditional som tam, and a fluke fillet (beware the fluke!) in tomato broth had a bizarre crackerlike "biscotti" crust that kept sliding off the overcooked fish. The tastiest fish preparation—seared tuna with uni foam and black-olive-flavored Israeli couscous—had an oddly satisfying beefy flavor but came out looking like it had spent the day sitting in the hot sun at the end of a pier. In-house executive chef Seth Siegel Gardner was Samuelsson's henchman at New York's Aquavit, and to me C-House's problems seem more about conception and investment rather than execution—they leave the impression that Gardner's itinerant boss thinks we landlocked rubes don't know from good fish. Then again, with a built-in customer base of tourists and travelers, maybe he isn't thinking about us at all. —Mike Sula
If I'm going to spend a couple of C-notes on dinner, I don't want to sit in a corridor—and that's what the first-floor dining room at the Dana Hotel's Ajasteak feels like, despite eye candy like curving rosewood behind the banquette and a two-story basket-weave wall. So next time I'll request the second-floor sushi bar, with its semicircular windows and relatively serene atmosphere. And there might be a next time—at least for a light meal. At $3 to $8 apiece, the nigiri sushi is expensive, but the contemporary maki ($7-$14) are about the same as at other upscale sushi spots, and the inside-out roll of mango, avocado, and tobiko, draped with ultrafresh salmon set off by tiny lemon triangles, was as good as it was gorgeous. I also liked hamachi "guacamole" ($16), a generous fusion appetizer of diced yellowtail atop mashed avocado spiked with jalapeño and lime, finished with a few taro root chips. Steaks—Kobe, Wagyu, dry-aged American prime—are the main draw as entrees, but if you just want a bit of Japanese Kobe beef, the yakitori appetizer is a deal: two to three ounces for $18 as opposed to $18 per ounce with a three-ounce minimum for filet mignon and a four-ounce minimum for New York strip. Just order it rare and sans seasoning. My five morsels were tender and tasty, though not the best Kobe I've had. The Yorkshire pork loin chop ($27) from Four Story Hill Farm was better: lightly breaded, perfectly cooked (with a hint of pink left), and accompanied by marinated purple onions and a tangle of deep-fried sweet potato threads. Sweet and salty soy-based sauce nearly drowned our other main course, slow-roasted Japanese sea bass fillet topped with microgreens and thinly sliced bok choy misleadingly called "wok-roasted vegetables." Salty and sweet also were the dominant notes in not-so-spicy hoisin long beans and a "souffle torte" ($9) of dark chocolate cake and milk chocolate mousse with bananas brulee, chopped peanuts, and a mini malted banana milk shake. Many sakes (some grouped into flights) and well-chosen wines by the glass or bottle are among the beverages. Our waiter was helpful even when harried, and the manager worked the room with aplomb. —AnneSpiselman
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