The W Hotel Lakeshore--an uber-hip remake of the old Days Inn--hasn't drawn near the crowds it expected at either its bar or its restaurant, WAVE, despite having the best lakefront seating in town. It could be because of the way the check-in area flows seamlessly into the bar and restaurant, making them easy to mistake as just part of the lobby. Or maybe it's the abstract wavy video looping on a large screen in the center of the dining room, which doesn't do anything for the appetite. My dining partner articulated the overriding opinion of the decor among our group: "It seems dated already." Nevertheless, the food has been decent from day one, and now Martial Noguier--the executive chef overseeing all Cornerstone Management restaurants, including One Sixty Blue, We, and Wave--is masterminding the menu's transformation away from Mediterranean toward seafood. Executing the new ideas will be chef David Murphy. Fomerly of Echo, Murphy has since spent a year at a high-end restaurant in Beirut, so he'll likely impart global influences to the offerings, which will include catches of the day and a variety of seviches. While the new menu has yet to debut, an overhaul of the wine list is complete. It now features some white varieties not often seen--Picpoul de Pinet, Verdejo, and Arneis--along with a range of reasonably priced reds like the 2000 Jaffurs syrah, a 1999 Alvaro Palacios "Les Terrasses" from Priorat, Spain, and a 1995 Bussola valpolicella classico from Italy's Veneto region. Wave is at 644 N. Lake Shore Dr., 312-255-4460.
There was optimism in the name Millennium, the former steak house in the West Randolph Street market district, but that wasn't enough to bring success for chef-owner Sonny Dervishi, a partner in Cafe America Group. This month he reconceptualized, replacing steaks with Cal-Ital and renaming his restaurant AZURE. (The Millennium in Carol Stream remains open.) What makes the fare Cal-Ital, of course, is the infusion of ingredients you'd be hard-pressed to find in Italy: Sonoma goat cheese on bruschetta, wasabi aioli on crab cakes, and soy-balsamic glaze on a Muscovy duck breast from Napa Valley. Chef John Weiszer, who has cooked Italian fare in California restaurants for the past 20 years, mans the kitchen, and while the food benefits from his attention to fresh ingredients, his tendency to incorporate Asian elements seems unnecessarily fussy. Fortunately, it's easy to avoid items that suffer from too much fusion on the large menu, the highlights of which are a ground-veal-and-sage-stuffed ravioli--bathed in a succulent mascarpone sauce and topped with sauteed mushrooms and grilled asparagus--and cioppino, the classic fish stew, full of scallops, mussels, clams, prawns, and calamari steeped in an addictive fennel-saffron broth. The portion is so generous that it could easily feed two (and at $19 it's a deal). The mostly California wine list needs more Italian selections to round it out. Azure is at 832 W. Randolph, 312-455-1400.
Catching the wave of a trend that doesn't seem worth the effort, the casual Logan Square favorite BOULEVARD CAFE now offers a low-carbohydrate menu. Most of the newly added dishes are identical to those already on the menu, minus a starchy side or two and with the addition of a listed carb count. The New York strip, for instance--weighing in at 4.3 grams of carbs--comes with spinach instead of a cheesy mushroom-crab casserole (which seems like it would have filled the low-carb requirement just fine). The salmon, formerly served with garlic mashed potatoes, is now stuffed with goat cheese and caramelized onions instead. Even the Caesar salad shows up--without the croutons, of course. Servers may need to familiarize themselves with the new offerings; without specifying a low-carb option, twice we received the regular preparation. The concept seems too trendy for this laid-back neighborhood hangout: does everyone really want to get skinny? Boulevard Cafe is at 3137 W. Logan, 773-384-8600.
The lights are dimmer and the banquettes have been reupholstered, but otherwise ESCARGOT doesn't feel all that different from its predecessor, Aubriot. The fare is still contemporary French, and while entree prices have dropped slightly (high teens instead of mid-20s), appetizers still hover around $10 (with the foie gras priced at $12). Not that the elegantly prepared and wonderfully flavored food isn't worth it. Chef Eric Aubriot still uses ultrafresh ingredients in delicate and tasteful combinations; take the fricassee of escargot with mushrooms and garlic butter, or the sauteed skate wing with a lobster-vegetable ragout in lobster sauce. The wine list has also come back down to earth with by-the-glass pours at a flat $7 and some great bottle values, like the 2001 Charles Back Goat-Roti ($38, from South Africa) and the 2001 Chateau Juvenal Cotes du Ventoux ($32). I'd go back if only to try the braised rabbit with mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts in mustard sauce (and to wash it down with a 2000 Mambourg gewurztraminer from Alsace). There's also a Friday-night deal: a four-course degustation menu for $45, $60 with paired wines. Escargot is at 1962 N. Halsted, 773-281-4211.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andre J. Jackson.