Unusual Japanese, Nuovo Italiano, and Sophisticated Comfort Food | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

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Unusual Japanese, Nuovo Italiano, and Sophisticated Comfort Food

Transformations

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Chiyo

3800 W. Lawrence

773-267-1555

I guess Chicago wasn't ready for an all-kaiseki restaurant. Elaborate multicourse dining based on simple, pure ingredients chosen to philosophically coincide with the changing seasons was an ambitious idea, and the meal I ate at Matsumoto, Isao Tozuka and chef Seijiro Matsumoto's Albany Park restaurant, was one of my most memorable. But despite intense media interest the place never seemed to be occupied by more than a few diners at a time. The doors closed late last year, ostensibly for vacation, and when it reopened a few months ago as Chiyo, the great Matsumoto--a man licensed to prepare fugu in five cities--was gone. Kaiseki is still available--ordered a week in advance--but now Tozuka and his charming wife, Chiyo, focus on more conventional Japanese fare: teriyaki dishes, tempura, sushi, sashimi, sukiyaki, and shabu-shabu with a choice of prime or Kobe (actually Wagyu) beef. The last two are showy performances in their own right, and Chiyo is still a restaurant where one can sample the uncommon, like ankimo, or monkfish liver, otherwise known as the foie gras of the sea. Fans of reproductive fluids might consider the fish egg tempura--actually the milt sac of a codfish. The sake list is impressive, and the standard array of sushi and sashimi items is available, prepared with skill though somehow lacking the pristine freshness that Matsumoto delivered. As far as customers go his departure's made little difference--so far the place is as forlorn as ever. --Mike Sula

Timo

464 N. Halsted

312-226-4300

"Is this the same restaurant?" three different befuddled guests asked the host at Timo the night I was there, about two weeks after the restaurant formerly known as Thyme reopened in its current incarnation last month. You can see why patrons might be confused: apart from new Chihuly-like light fixtures, the interior is unchanged--there's the same open-air kitchen and grey-and-brown color scheme. But chef John Bubala has changed the name of his place to the Italian word for "thyme" and moved from a French-Mediterranean menu to an Italian-influenced one. Such transformations can be risky, with the final result neither fish nor fowl, but in this case Bubala has successfully adapted the cuisine to his contemporary approach. You probably won't ever find ravioli filled with turkey and pancetta at a traditional trattoria, but maybe you should: the smoky taste of the pancetta joined with the earthiness of the porcini cream sauce to create a woodsy flavor. Bubala is talented at balancing: a tender organic pork shank came with a balsamic-fig relish, and the accompanying sage-infused polenta soft-pedaled the herb, which can taste medicinal if overused. I'm not a huge fan of risotto, but here braised leeks gave a pear, Gorgonzola, and artichoke version an appreciable crunch. Speaking of leeks: on May 8 Bubala will be joined at his restaurant by Paul Kahan of Blackbird, ex-Trio chef Mary McMahon, and 312 Chicago's Dean Zanella for Rampfest, a five-course benefit in support of farmland preservation and organic farming that features ramps (wild leeks) in every course. It's $125; for more information see thelandconnection.org. --Heather Kenny

Deleece

4004 N. Southport

773-325-1710

Now that chef Carol Wallack has moved on to her sleek new restaurant, Sola, her sister Lynne has warmed up Deleece, the place they ran together for ten years, with copper-hued tiles, tasteful nude photos, and a new chef, Steven Obendorf (Chestnut Street Grill, Fuse). The restaurant remains family friendly, the kind of neighborhood place where you can take your children and they will miraculously behave. Thankfully, that doesn't condemn you to chicken fingers (though they are on the children's menu). Instead there's sophisticated comfort food like a starter of crab cakes with an almond crust served with avocado yogurt or a crispy-skinned duck breast with pea-confit ravioli and a salad of pea shoots and mint. Some favorites from the old menu remain, like a succulent pan-roasted salmon fillet served with Chinese sticky black rice, spinach, and leeks in a pear-ginger sauce. Lunch

service is now offered Tuesday through Friday, and there's a three-course prix fixe meal for $20 every Monday and Tuesday. --Mara Tapp

OTHER RECENT TRANSFORMATIONS

Strega Nona, 3747 N. Southport, is now Take Five

Fluky's, 6832 N. Western, is now U Lucky Dawg

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rob Warner.

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