676 N. Saint Clair
Can you be happy with a tiny taste of luxury? Or is the success of an extravagant enterprise--in this case, haute fine dining--predicated on excess? The question bumped around in my head as a friend and I scooted in under a Sugimoto photo (the ethereal Eiffel Tower--Gustave Eiffel) in the lounge at TRU. Formerly the restaurant's bar, the newly redecorated salon now offers a limited menu of caviar and a half-dozen savory dishes, plus drinks and dessert, the idea being that you can order a la carte and get a taste of what you'd pay a couple C-notes for in the dining room.
While you can get signature dishes like chef Rick Tramonto's caviar "staircase" ($91 for osetra), we opted for the $35 caviar spaetzle, twisted clouds of dough dressed with mushroom foam and a mushroom emulsion and topped with spoonfuls of the tiny eggs. A heart-stoppingly rich poached egg, slow-cooked for 90 minutes, was served in a champagne cream sauce with caviar over asparagus tips and minuscule croutons. And the much-hyped "faux gras," created for the restaurant by superstar chef Laurent Gras, was a mousselike concoction of chicken liver and pork fat, dusted with cocoa and wrapped in a Sauternes gelee. Unctuous and mild, with a satiny texture, it's a convincing stand-in for the verboten organ.
For dessert we ordered an array of mignardises: truffles, caramels, marshmallows, lollipops. We were tucking happily into the treats when our server appeared with a complimentary extra: a hazelnut napoleon topped with caramel ice cream. A showstopping example of the magic Gale Gand can work with sweets, it was the best thing we ate all night.
In keeping with the restaurant's minimalist aesthetic, the lounge is rather austere--eating there's a bit like dining in an art gallery and about as cozy. The tiny two-top made the waitstaff's service a ludicrous game: how many glasses, bread plates, utensils, and courses can you fit in one small square before you have to give up and take away the candle? But the big drawback is that, no matter how fantastic, five shared tasting portions are just a tease. If you're a posh type to begin with, game to drop a wad on drinks and a mind-blowing dessert in the company of Yves Klein and Maya Lin, the lounge might suit you fine. But for most of us, going someplace like Tru is a special occasion, a chance to pretend to be rich for a few hours, and for that the lounge comes up a little short--imagine going to the opera and hearing one sublime aria, from the balcony, behind a pillar. If you're dying to go to Tru, just suck it up, clear your credit card, and go to Tru. --Martha Bayne
22 E. Hubbard
Jack Binyon and Donnie Kruse, owners of BB'S, call their River North venture "Chicago's first gastropub"--but tell that to Cooper's, the Hopleaf, or any of the other spots around town where you can get a mushroom tart or mussels with your Belgian brew. Still, BB's might be the first of its kind to offer turtle soup--a nod to the menu at the old Loop landmark Binyon's (BB's is named for Bud Binyon, Jack's father).
I didn't get to the turtle soup on this visit, but I did sample some other items from the eclectic menu. Beef empanadas had an outstandingly flaky crust, though the accompanying chimichurri sauce could've used more kick. Rotating daily specials include comfort foods like corned beef hash, beef stew, and "chicken in the pot," basically matzo ball soup with an entire chicken. The hot open-face turkey sandwich tasted dry despite lavish amounts of gravy, but the accompanying mashed potatoes were smooth and rich. Among the desserts:
strawberry-and-Nutella panini and "banoffee pie," a tastier-than-it-sounds concoction of whipped cream, sliced bananas, and a sticky, coffee-flavored custard. Service was attentive, friendly, and honest (when my companion asked our waiter what came with the halibut, he answered, "About three pieces of asparagus"). The selection of beers on tap is modest, but more are available in bottles, and the wine list is decent. BB's decor is Frenchy, with paper place mats en Francais and "Sexy Paris" signs in the ladies' room. --Anne Ford
La Cantina Grill
1911 S. Michigan
La Cantina Grill is the sort of casual joint you can take out-of-towners like your ma and pa to: they can't go wrong with either the specials (all meat- or fish-based) or the menu's "traditional" section: burritos, enchiladas, and tostadas that share the plate with the familiar puddle of refried beans, mildly seasoned rice, and tuft of shredded iceberg lettuce. Portions are fat-American size, and the prices, most under $12, shouldn't prompt any pursed lips. For an appetizer we tried an old standby, queso fundido, which came with a pool of salsa verde on top. A dish of shrimp al mojo de ajo arrived sizzling and proved pleasant if not as flavorful as you'd hope. The mole sauce on the pollo michoacano, on the other hand, was rich and satiny; I also loved the fresh, limey tang of the guacamole. I can't say I'd travel all the way from my west-side neighborhood just to eat at this comfy place again, but if I lived in the South Loop I might well make a habit of it. --Susannah J. Felts
OTHER RECENT OPENINGS
Adesson, 3332 N. Broadway, 773-868-1516
Baladoche, 2905 N. Clark, 773-880-5090
Broadway Cellars, 5900 N. Broadway, 773-944-1208
DeLaCosta, 465 E. Illinois, 312-464-1700
Plymouth Restaurant & Bar, 327 S. Plymouth Ct., 312-362-1212
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bob Warner.