What's New: The Scene Across From the Bean, Satisfying Pan-Mediterranean, and Disappointing Pan-Asian | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

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What's New: The Scene Across From the Bean, Satisfying Pan-Mediterranean, and Disappointing Pan-Asian

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The Gage

24 S. Michigan

312-372-4293

Across the street from Millennium Park, The Gage--a new restaurant from father-and-son co-owners William and Billy Lawless (The Grafton) and chef Dirk Flanigan (Meritage, Blue Water Grill)--draws swarms of tourists and suits alike, and the restored tin ceiling and green and white tiles only amplify the din. But if you can tolerate the noise (and the breathtaking prices), you'll find some superb dishes. The extensive drinks list features specialty and vintage cocktails like the Champagne Charlie (champagne and Grand Marnier with a bitters-soaked sugar cube). The one-page menu has surprising breadth without seeming scattershot: there are half a dozen steaks and burgers alongside more unusual offerings like roast saddle of elk, sea bream with oxtail, and caramelized lobster with lemon quinoa. Gooey fondue with butterkase, Brie, and spinach, served piping hot in a crock with toasts on the side, is a delightful starter made for sharing; other appetizers include mussels in a vindaloo sauce, fried chicken livers, and risotto with basil-marinated escargots. Among the entrees are vegetarian options like calamarata pasta with roasted peppers and seared semolina dumplings. An expertly charred hanger steak had plenty of smoky, juicy flavor, and the accompanying goat cheese grits and cabernet-Stilton-butter were heavenly. Don't skip the brussels sprouts with bacon and Brie, available a la carte along with several other sides. But do save room for dessert: offerings like the "deconstructed" apple pie (thin pastry served upright in a pint glass with apple ice cream on the side) and chocolate peanut butter cake make a perfect finish. --Rob Christopher

Amphora

7547 N. Clark

773-262-5767

At Amphora you experience some cognitive dissonance: Greek vases hang high against the clubby dark wood of the former Gateway Bar & Grill, a television blares over the world music on the sound system, and the purportedly pan-Mediterranean menu includes Caesar salad and shrimp de Jonghe, a dish that originated in the exotic port city of Chicago. The food helps overcome these incongruities. Crispy flatbreads are pizzalike, with sunny ingredients like goat cheese, olives, and roasted garlic, and large enough to make a meal. Tabbouleh is fresh and sparingly seasoned, and salt cod cakes are clean tasting and delicately crisped, reflecting quality ingredients and a capable hand in the kitchen. Marinated lamb shank is big and meaty, but befitting the Mediterranean focus, there are many seafood dishes and enough vegetarian entrees--including pasta, soups, and strata--to satisfy those who don't eat things with eyes or mothers. The full bar has a good selection of wines, over half available by the glass and many in carafes (for a reasonable $16), and a small-plates menu is served till the wee hours. --David Hammond

Republic Pan-Asian Restaurant & Lounge

58 E. Ontario

312-440-1818

The anxiety at River North's Republic Pan-Asian restaurant & Lounge is palpable, from the agitated waitstaff to the weird high-low menu featuring a $30 Kobe shoulder loin alongside workaday pad thai and curries. On a recent visit our waiter convinced us to try one of the 12 or so sakes on the menu, then disappeared for 20 minutes. After returning with our wine, he apologized profusely, only to turn pale when a harried runner approached our table and said gravely, "Chef wants to see you." This happened twice during our meal, leaving us to wonder whether our waiter would be fired before dessert. Unfortunately, this was the least of our worries. The food took forever to arrive, and when it did, one of the appetizers was something we hadn't ordered (we were then brought the correct one). Our lobster-topped maki was weirdly chewy and tasted nothing like lobster; flat-flavored tempura vegetables were unredeemed by the dipping sauce. The Kobe shoulder loin, however, was fabulous: cooked to a perfect medium rare, it almost justified the wait and the expense. Ultimately, though, the frenetic confusion of the half-empty restaurant was a turnoff. With so many people rushing around trying to do the right thing, we wondered why so much was wrong. --Chip Dudley

Other recent openings

Alhambra Palace

1240 W. Randolph | 312-666-9555

Anteprima

5316 N. Clark | 773-506-9990

Coalfire 1321 W. Grand | 312-226-2625

Delicioso y Sabroso

10468 S. Indianapolis | 773-374-6089

Room 21

2110 S. Wabash | 312-328-1198

Sura

3124 N. Broadway | 773-248-7872

For more on restaurants, see our blog The Food Chain at chicagoreader.com.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/A. Jackson.

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